DUBLIN, Ohio -- Bart Bryant spent 20 years trying to prove
he belonged among the best, often laying awake at night wondering
if three surgeries and too many trips to Q School were a sign he
was wasting his time.
Winning the Texas Open last fall was the first step.
Validation came Sunday at the Memorial. Bryant somehow salvaged
par from inside a hazard on the edge of the creek on the 18th hole,
held off crowd-favorite Fred Couples by one shot and had an
audience with Jack Nicklaus, the tournament host who was duly
impressed with what he saw at Muirfield Village.
"To win against a quality field like this ... to walk off the
18th green and have Mr. Nicklaus waiting to shake your hand and
congratulate you is beyond comprehension at this point," Bryant
Tiger Woods was stopped early with a double bogey on the eighth
hole, and he wound up tied for third with Bo Van Pelt and Jeff
Sluman. Woods needed to finish alone in third to replace Vijay
Singh at No. 1 in the world ranking.
Bryant emerged the winner on a steamy afternoon at Muirfield
Village, where the chase was so tight that 11 players were within
three shots of the lead when the final group made the turn, and no
one ever led by more than one shot.
It eventually became a duel, and Bryant didn't blinked.
The raucous cheers behind him as Couples surged into the lead
never rattled the 42-year-old Texan. Bryant stole the lead from
Couples, not to mention the show, with an approach into 5 feet for
birdie on the 17th.
The real drama came at the 18th, when his 3-wood took a hard
bounce and stopped inches from the water.
Playing it safe, Bryant took a penalty drop and lashed a 6-iron
into 15 feet, then holed the par putt for a 4-under 68. He sat
nervously in the scoring trailer waiting to see if his score would
stand, and Couples' last chance ended with an approach that sailed
over the green into deep rough.
"Bart deserved to win," Couples said after missing two putts
inside 10 feet over the final four holes. "I can't really kick
myself too hard. There are a lot of shots out there and there are a
lot of things I did to save shots, too. But overall, I just needed
one more putt."
Bryant was a forgotten figure among the four players tied for
the lead going into the final round. He didn't have one-fourth the
size of the gallery trailing Couples, one of the most endearing
players on the PGA Tour. Some fans even called him "Brad," his
older brother now on the Champions Tour.
But he was the only player among the top 30 who didn't make a
bogey on the back nine Sunday. As Couples sent the gallery into a
frenzy a collection of brilliant iron shots and key putts, Bryant
matched him stroke-for-stroke.
"There wasn't anybody who played better golf," Nicklaus said
with Bryant at his side. "Hole after hole after hole, Bart had a
chance to have something happen. You made the putt every time."
None was bigger than the last one, a slick putt that just curled
in the left side.
Bryant finished at 16-under 272 and won $990,000. Better yet,
his victory got him out of his Tuesday appointment for a 36-hole
U.S. Open qualifier. Bryant earned an exemption by winning twice on
the PGA Tour since last May, with the Memorial the cutoff for that
It will be his first U.S. Open since 1994, and only his third
He had injuries -- left rotator cuff in 1992, left elbow in 2000,
right elbow in 2002 -- that kept him away from golf for six months
at a time and dampened his hopes about making a living on tour.
Now, Bryant is even talking about spending more time with
Nicklaus, the U.S. captain at the Presidents Cup, in September. The
victory moved him to 15th in the standings.
"You're not far off," Nicklaus told him.
Woods made eight birdies, but the double bogey on the par-3
eighth slowed his momentum, and missing the 14th green with a wedge
to make bogey ended his hopes. He shot 68.
"I needed a couple more putts to go in and a couple less
mistakes," Woods said.
For Couples, it was a rare chance to win on tour, and he let it
slip away, despite some electrifying shots. The best was a 4-iron
that stopped 6 feet behind the flag on the par-5 15th for an eagle
putt that would have created a two-shot lead. He pushed the putt
and had to settle for birdie, then bogeyed the next hole from a
"When you don't play much, your short game kills you," said
Couples, playing his first tournament since the Masters.
Bryant made it a two-shot swing with his birdie on the 17th, and
when Couples missed a 10-footer for birdie on the same hole, he was
one shot down on the 18th. His approach went into rough, and his
chip sailed 35 feet past the hole. Couples made that for par -- one
last cheer -- for a 69 and second place.
Bryant was thrilled to win the Texas Open last year, but he was
quick to point out that the best players were at the Ryder Cup this
"This year was kind of about validation for myself," Bryant
said. "I don't think anybody else really cared one way or the
other, but for me, I needed to show myself that I belonged in the
winner's circle, and I could compete with Tiger Woods and Vijay
Singh and these guys."
He beat them all at Muirfield Village, then got an audience with
Nicklaus, perhaps the best of all time.