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Garcia rolls away with Nelson title

Posted: Monday, May 17, 2004

IRVING, Texas Sergio Garcia retooled his swing so it would hold up under the intense pressure of the final round. On Sunday, he only had to let the other guys fall apart at the Byron Nelson Championship.

Garcia made enough clutch pars to get into a playoff, then won for the first time in two years on the PGA Tour by tapping in for par on the first extra hole as Dudley Hart and Robert Damron self-destructed.

''Winning is always great,'' Garcia said. ''Those are the little things that get you going a little bit.''

Garcia closed with a 1-over 71, the first Byron Nelson winner in 11 years to fail to break par in the final round. He never would have guessed he could shoot that score and still win, or that a simple par would be enough in the playoff.

''I pulled it through, and I'm happy,'' Garcia said.

Hart, who birdied three of the last five holes to close with a 67 and get into the playoff, missed the fairway on the 18th and hit into a terrible lie right of the green. He duffed a chip and wound up with double bogey.

''I got a little overaggressive,'' Hart said. ''Fifty yards short of the green would have been better than I was.''

Damron holed a 7-iron from the 15th fairway for eagle and shot 66 to get into a playoff, just like he did three years ago when he won the Nelson on the fourth extra hole. Damron lagged his 50-foot putt to 4 feet, stepped up to it quickly and pulled it left.

Damron had a similar putt on the 18th in regulation, so he knew the line.

''There was no point in reading it,'' he said. ''I knew what it was doing. I just butchered it.''

All three finished at 10-under 270.

Tiger Woods tried to make a late charge despite hitting only three fairways Sunday. He shot 69 to finish one shot out of the playoff for the second straight week.

''It's a little bit disappointing because obviously I didn't play well, and I had a chance even as poorly as I played,'' Woods said. ''It came down to one shot.''

Duffy Waldorf (68) hit into the water on No. 17 to make bogey and also finished one shot back. Also at 9-under 271 was Tim Herron, who closed with a 64. Herron did not make a birdie on the par 5s all week.

Garcia, 24, who made his professional debut at the Byron Nelson five years ago, won for the fourth time on the PGA Tour and earned $1.04 million. He also gained 66 world ranking points, moving him to No. 2 in the European standings for the Ryder Cup.

It was an important victory for Garcia, no matter how he got it done.

He was considered a rising star when he tied for third at the '99 Nelson as a 19-year-old, then challenged Woods at the PGA Championship that summer and starred for Europe in the Ryder Cup.

But big victories have come slowly, and Garcia surprised some by changing his swing to reduce the lag. He has played better the last six months, held back only by his putting.

He still missed his share of birdie chances, but he came through with big par putts on the 11th and 12th holes.

''I didn't putt my best,'' he said. ''I was fortunate to make a couple of par putts. Unfortunately, when I had birdie chances, I didn't make them.''

Vijay Singh removed himself from the picture quickly. He took two shots from a fairway bunker and one from in front of the green at No. 4 to make triple bogey, and he ended his round by hitting two shots into the water on No. 17 to take a quadruple-bogey 7. Singh finished with a 78.

Woods eventually made a move, although it was too late. He didn't hit a fairway until the 11th hole, his first ball in the short grass since the 11th hole in the third round Saturday. He proceeded to hit wedge into the bunker and make bogey to fall five shots back with seven holes to play.

He birdied the next two holes from short range to get to within two shots, but failed to get up-and-down from the bunker on the par-5 16th for birdie. After making a 30-foot birdie putt on the 17th for one last chance, his hopes ended in a fitting fashion when he missed the 18th fairway and had no chance to reach the green.

The charge came from out of nowhere.

First it was Damron, holing a 7-iron from 182 yards on the 15th hole for eagle and finishing with three pars for a 66 to get into the clubhouse at 10-under 270. Then came Hart, with a long two-putt birdie on the 16th and a 30-foot birdie on the 17th for a 67 to join him.

Ultimately, though, it came down to Garcia.

He finally lost his lead by hitting his shot to the right on the 15th. A small tree limited his swing and forced him to punch out on the 475-yard hole, and Garcia wound up with a bogey. His last chance to regain the lead came at 16th, but he missed the fairway and had to lay up, then missed a 10-foot birdie putt.

His final putt was a simple tap-in, giving him the conclusion he expected all along.

Ochoa, who became the first Mexican to win an LPGA tournament, had five birdies and a bogey in the final round and held off three-time winners Ward and Pat Hurst, finishing at 16-under 272.

Jimenez finished at 14-under 274 in recording his third tour victory of the year. He had three birdies on the front nine, then pulled away with an eagle on the 13th hole.



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