A menace lurked in a hazard on No. 5

Published February 15, 2007

At the fifth hole of the Timber Greens Country Club lies a pond of black water. Till Wednesday it was home to a 7-foot alligator.

It devoured turtles and dismembered pelicans and inspired at least one foursome's new rule: Anyone whose ball lands near the water may take a drop at a safe distance.

Well and good for the golfers. But Vernon Messier makes his living in water hazards, digging lost balls from the muck, and on Wednesday he stumbled upon the strongest jaws in the animal kingdom.

Two golfers were on the green near 10 a.m. when they heard the water churning.

Pat McGuire, 68, from Holiday, saw a man in a wet suit 10 feet from shore.

The man screamed.

"A gator got me!"

McGuire ran. He reached the water's edge, grabbed the man's hands and pulled him to the bank.

The man was Messier, 57, of Lutz. He had cuts on his hands and gashes on his foot, terror in his eyes. He was exhausted.

He told McGuire that when the alligator seized his foot, he reached into the black water and gouged its eye.

An ambulance came for Messier, but he refused transport. His driving foot was unharmed. He left the country club in his own vehicle and was later listed in good condition at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa.

Alligators are generally docile in winter, trapper Mickey Fagan said.

This one had almost certainly been fed by humans, which tends to make alligators aggressive, Fagan said.

Fagan cast a hook baited with a cow lung, and the alligator swallowed it. Fagan reeled it to shore and put it in a cage behind his truck and took it to his slaughterhouse.

After Messier left the fifth hole, Pat McGuire picked up his putter and went back to the green. He three-putted. His hands were still shaking.