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Mark Wilson, honest winner, going to the Masters

       Not to worry, Mark Wilson held on to win the Sony Open and he will go to the Masters.

         The Masters didn't automatically invite all Tour winners (as it does now) in 2007, when he won the Honda despite having called a two-stroke penalty on himself for something his caddie did (in an act of kindness toward a competitor, oddly enough).

           Wilson said just after he won tonight that he was in church last week and the sermon was all about, "You're wasting energy if you're worrying." So he held his cool and didn't worry down the stretch.

             Good outcome for a good guy.

              And, by the way, welcome to everyone to this new golf season! Won't be long before this snow is melted and Long Islanders can start hitting the range.

             Here's a column I did on Wilson 4 years a

Imagine letting an offensive lineman decide if he should have been called for holding on a play. Letting the pitcher call balls and strikes. Asking a center if he really fouled that guy going to the basket.

That's about what golf expects players to do. Golfers are supposed to be their own referees, which can be a rough job when the referee has to make a tough call on the player.

"Golf is a different game," said Mark Wilson, who last week proved it as well as anyone could. He called a two-stroke penalty on himself at the Honda Classic for something he didn't do and something that didn't benefit him one bit.

But a rule is a rule. Wilson knew he had to blow the whistle when his caddie, Chris Jones, innocently told Camilo Villegas and Villegas' caddie that Wilson had used an 18-degree hybrid club on the fifth hole of the second round.

Only in golf is it considered cheating to help someone who is trying to beat you. Go figure.

"I played basketball growing up, and if I took three steps, I wasn't going to hand the ball to the official if he didn't call it," Wilson said after having completed a solid, penalty-free round at the PODS Championship this past Friday. "I think it's just the lay of the land."

Tour veteran Chris DiMarco, who grew up playing other sports and whose greatest asset as a golfer is his competitiveness, said, "I think that's where you get the separation between us and other sports. I think you could call a foul on every play in basketball. I think you could call holding on every play in the NFL."

In other sports, it is considered a precious skill to get away with as much as you can. In golf, you are supposed to blow the whistle on yourself, even if you are 32, you have been to Tour Qualifying School 10 times, you and your wife are expecting your first child in the fall and you're still trying to make a career for yourself.

You'd think such a guy would spend the rest of the weekend kicking himself about how much better life would look if he had those two strokes back. Not Wilson, though. Two holes after it happened, he hugged Jones because the caddie was disconsolate.

"You know, I didn't think about that at all after a couple holes because it's in the past," Wilson said. "No matter what happens in golf - if I get a silly double bogey or get a penalty like that, it's gone. Momentum is a big thing in this game for me. That changed the momentum for some odd reason, to a positive."

So positive that he made a 47-foot putt for par on the 16th hole last Sunday, which ultimately helped him get into a four-way playoff (that also, oddly, included Villegas). Wilson made a 31-footer for par on the first playoff hole before darkness postponed the finish until Monday morning.

Then, two holes later, he won the tournament. His life changed with his first career title, a $990,000 prize and a two-year exemption on the Tour he had always struggled so hard to join.

To him, those two penalty shots were strokes of luck. "If I had had a two-shot lead coming down, those putts might not have gone in," he said. "I might have figured out a way to choke two more shots away."

Rarely has a win been so popular on Tour. Fellow Wisconsinites Jerry Kelly, Steve Stricker and J.P. Hayes halted their practice round Tuesday to applaud Wilson as he walked onto the course. At the PODS Championship Friday, Briny Baird - intent on trying to make the cut - walked outside the ropes near the 18th tee to give a big thumbs-up to Wilson, who was playing No. 10.

So what's the moral of this morality story?

"Golf," said Braves ace pitcher John Smoltz, who has been known to go on the course with Tiger Woods, "has some goofy rules."

That's true. It's also true that pro golfers haven't always been saints. But players like Wilson are the rule. The sight of his caddie sobbing after the win was a sign that when golfers live up to their own standards, they show us the best in sports.

"We are certainly not taking steroids; we're not doing all of this other junk," DiMarco said. "I think that helped him in the long run, calling it on himself. It shows that good guys come out on top."


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