PALM BEACH GARDENS -- This was nobody’s dream ending except Michael Thompson’s, but the finish of the Honda Classic on Sunday — this whole tournament, really — reminded us why golf is our most unpredictable sport, and delightfully so.
Other sports can seem almost scripted compared to the one with the dimples.
The NBA’s predictability makes the entire regular season seem perfunctory. Which one of two or three teams might the Heat inevitably meet in The Finals? Baseball, hockey and even football also offer a fairly select circle of true contenders each year. Tennis? You could pick the top four men or women in any tournament and see the eventual champion among them almost every time.
Not so on the PGA Tour, where a man is a legend if he wins one in 10 tournaments, and where Thompson’s Sunday triumph underlined golf’s tendency to rip up expected scripts in favor of surprise endings.
This was “supposed” to be a Sunday duel between world Nos. 1-2 Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, remember? Well, McIlroy withdrew mid-tournament and Woods was a nonfactor, tying for 37th place on the PGA National course two hours north of Miami.
The week’s marquee was borrowed instead by the little-known Thompson, claiming his first PGA Tour title and its $1.08 million prize, and by Miami-born Erik Compton, whose career-best tie for fourth place might not be that all special, I guess, if he had not survived not one but two heart transplants to get here.
Golf leads all sports in unpredictability because these are the athletes trying to master the ultimate precision skill. The difference between making the cut or going home empty-handed can be one shot over four days, perhaps a putt that hung agonizingly on the lip of a cup but never fell.
So it was that, this week, Thompson, a 27-year-old Alabama graduate, was a better golfer than anybody — good enough for a two-shot victory and his first title in his 61st career starts on a windy-turned-chilly, tough-scoring Sunday.
“This week was magical. I had a groove and kept believing,” he said. “This is everything. It kind of solidifies in my mind that I’m one of the guys now.”
Thompson is no font of effervescence, and admits it. He wore a cream-colored sweater that looked like he borrowed it from Mr. Rogers.
“I’m not a flashy player. I’m not dramatic. I kind of plod along,” he said. “I’m not a Ricky Fowler or Tiger Woods. Everybody wants to see the marquee players, the guys who wear the bright clothes. I’ve never drawn a big crowd.”
If Thompson threatened to make boring trendy, Compton’s name on the final leaderboard lent the emotion. You could call him, at 33, a career journeyman, but the phrase seems harsh when the man’s journey has included a heart transplant in 1992, at 12, and another in 2008.
Compton would rather not constantly talk about his medical past or the human-interest story. He longs to be the golf story, and Sunday was the closest he has come, his first career top-10 finish.
“I’ve been trying to do this for a long time,” he said, just off the 18th green.
The week’s story we all anticipated had none of this. Then again, no sport follows a script less.
This was supposed to be a reprise of last year’s uncommon dream finish here, when young McIlroy held off Tiger — at least that was according to the sincere wishes of tournament officials, ratings-minded NBC and many fans.