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Hoch finishes off Furyk at Doral

Posted: Tuesday, March 11, 2003

MIAMI -- One clutch putt made Scott Hoch look smart for waiting overnight to continue his playoff.

Three great shots that followed made him a winner Monday in the Ford Championship at Doral, a tournament that might be remembered more for how it was stopped than the way it finally ended.

''Yeah, baby!'' Hoch said when his 10-foot birdie putt fell.

He raised his arm and smiled at a few hundred fans who returned to Doral for the 20 minutes it took Hoch to defeat Jim Furyk on the third playoff hole.

''This is very big to do this, and to do it how I did,'' Hoch said. ''Under these conditions early in the morning, to hit those shots, that felt great.''

Hoch riled a few thousand fans Sunday evening by refusing to hit his 9-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole, claiming he couldn't read the line in gathering darkness.

Hoch had the right to wait until morning -- and he had his reasons.

Caddie Damon Green thought the putt moved a little to the right. Hoch, who has had five eye operations, thought it broke to the left.

It turned out to be a prudent decision.

''That was one of the reasons that I didn't putt, because I don't want to be standing over a putt that I'm unsure about, especially when I can't see to make it,'' Hoch said.

When he returned, Hoch studied the putt from three angles and realized Green was right. He played it just inside the left of the hole, and it curled in the right edge.

Furyk's birdie putt from 6 feet was good all the way.

They went to the 18th hole, the toughest on the Blue Monster, and Hoch was flawless. His drive split the middle of the fairway, and his 9-iron from 148 yards landed just beyond the flag and rolled 10 feet away. Furyk drove into the lakeside bunker -- he didn't hit the fairway on any of the three playoff holes -- and he played out to 25 feet, missing the putt to the left.

''Scott played great,'' Furyk said. ''There's not much I could do.''

The 47-year-old Hoch became the oldest player to win a PGA Tour event since Tom Watson was 48 when he won the Colonial five years ago.

Hoch has 11 titles in a career that only now is getting its due. Only once in the last 21 seasons has Hoch finished lower than 40th on the PGA Tour money list, and the $900,000 check he earned Monday moved him to seventh in career winnings.

The other reason for wanting to wait: Hoch knows these opportunities to win don't come along very often at his age. He didn't want to see this chance disappear in the darkness.

''You always wonder if this is going to be your last win,'' Hoch said. ''When you get up to the mid 40s and upper 40s, it has to creep in your mind. Am I good enough to win? It's getting harder and harder.''

This might have been the most difficult of all.

Five days ago, Hoch wasn't even sure he could play at Doral.

His left wrist started bothering him when he arrived, and the first alternate was standing by -- even offering Hoch a steak dinner and a bottle of wine to withdraw -- until Hoch hit his last few balls on the practice range and headed to the first tee on Thursday.

He flinched with every drive, and had the wrist worked on every morning. But the physical therapists left town Sunday, figuring the tournament was over.

''All I did was ice it while I was eating dinner,'' Hoch said.

He stayed up until about 2 a.m. watching television, typical for Hoch no matter what time he plays the next day, and only in the final few hours did he think about his putt.

This time, he could see the line clearly. Hoch hit it softer than he planned; another turn and it would have spun out the right edge.

He left nothing to chance on the 18th, though.

''As far as the last three shots on the 18th -- I can't play that hole any better,'' Hoch said. ''I had good yardage. I said, 'Let's go right at it.' I was hitting to the right of the hole, just like I drew it up. It was perfect.''

The ovation wasn't as loud as it could have been.

Hoch and Furyk said they felt bad for the fans and tournament officials who wanted to see a winner Sunday evening.

Still, Furyk said he agreed with Hoch's decision to stop play until daylight.

''Everyone made too big a deal out of it,'' Furyk said. ''It got dark last night. It's golf. We get rain delays, darkness delays all the time.''

It was the first playoff at Doral in 12 years, and that one also was decided Monday because of electrical storms that kept about two dozen players from finishing.

Hoch said his 16-year-old daughter, Katie, asked to stay home from school so she could watch the playoff on TV.

''She's already back in school,'' Hoch said. ''She'll be happy now.''



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