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Star-Bulletin Sports

Monday, January 15, 2001

H A W A I I _ G O L F


By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Victory is sweet. Jim Furyk kisses his wife, Tabitha,
and clutches the Mercedes Championships trophy.

Fantastic finish
for Furyk as Sabbatini
misses short putt

He calls the win on Maui 'amazing,'
especially since he was recovering
from an injury he sustained trying
to intercept a pass at a Ravens' party

Not what TV execs wanted
Easy hole hard for Sabbatini

By Bill Kwon

KAPALUA, Maui -- Jim Furyk was so sure there'd be a playoff for the second year in a row in the Mercedes Championships that he had his driver in hand, thinking about where he wanted to land his tee shot at the Plantation Course's 663-yard, par-5 finishing hole -- the longest on the PGA Tour.

He had just sunk a 20-foot birdie putt at 18 to go 18-under with his closing 67 yesterday for a 72-hole total of 274. And he was ready to tee it up again.

Rory Sabbatini, who had a four-shot lead going into the final round, just needed to clean up a three-foot putt for his birdie to tie.

He missed.

"I definitely feel for Rory. I've been in that situation. It's a pretty sick feeling. Nine times out of 10 they knock that putt in, go to a playoff," said Furyk, who must feel there's no place like Hawaii, especially the Valley Island.

Furyk, winner of the 1996 Hawaiian Open, won his first event here -- the 1995 Lincoln-Mercury Kapalua International, an unofficial money event.

The Mercedes Championships is for real -- an exclusive, winners-only tournament that's worth $630,000.

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Tiger Woods took a bit of grass and dirt in the eye after
his second shot on the third hole during yesterday's
Mercedes Championships final round.

"What a way to start the new year," said Furyk, who hurt his right wrist in a fall two months ago at a Baltimore Ravens' tailgate party. He was trying to make like Rod Woodson, trying to intercept a football thrown in the parking lot. His wrist was still hurting last week.

"To come here and complete 72 holes, play as well as I did and win the tournament, I'm pretty amazed."

Of course, Furyk added, "You'd like to win with a more heroic finish."

But he'll take the victory, thank you.

And Sabbatini -- the youngest in the field, even younger than Tiger Woods -- was glad to finish second.

"Second? I would have taken 33rd place. I've got no complaints this week. I played better than I expected. You can't take away what Jimmy did," Sabbatini said about his fellow University of Arizona Wildcat alumnus. They've played together a couple of times in UA fund-raisers.

But it was not to be in a playoff yesterday.

Sabbatini had a putt of around 65 feet at the 18th green. He left his first putt three feet below the hole. Nine times out of 10, right? This was the 10th time.

"I felt myself pulling it," said Sabbatini, who won't be 25 until April.

His parents from South Africa, who anguished at the missed birdie putt, might have been stunned. But not Sabbatini.

"I knew I pulled it. It didn't deserve to go in. There isn't anything in golf that's a gimme," said Sabbatini, whose first tour victory in the Air Canada Championship made him eligible for this $3.5 million event.

Still, he had the solace of $378,000 for his runner-up finish.

Meanwhile, two key putts when he needed them proved the difference for Furyk, who played with second-round leader Ernie Els in the group before Sabbatini.

The first was a slippery, downhill 15-footer to save par at 16.

"That was big for me. I hit it like a three-foot putt. I just touched it," Furyk said. "I had no business getting up and down at 16 from where I did."

The other key putt was the one at 18 for birdie-4, which Sabbatini couldn't match to force a playoff.

Furyk said his putt was 20 feet. The media thought it was much less than that.

"It could be 40 feet now, I don't care," said Furyk, who answered questions about the orange Strata cap he wore all week to promote Spalding's new golf ball.

"I wasn't happy about the color orange. (But) if I start winning with the hat on, I might wear it on a Sunday in a major," he said. "Definitely for all of January."

Els, who lost to Woods in a dramatic two-hole playoff last year, tied for third with Masters champion Vijay Singh at 276, each pocketing $203,000.

John Huston, who won the 1998 Hawaiian Open, matched Furyk's final-day low of 67 to finish fifth at 277, good for a $140,000 pay day.

The top five finishers here will be in the Sony Open this weekend at the Waialae Country Club.

"This week I started off playing real well," Els said. "Then I don't know what I did. I lost a bit of concentration."

As for Woods, who's taking this week off, he closed with a 69 and tied for eighth with three others, including first-round leader Justin Leonard.

"Little off this week. I was a little rusty and it showed. Overall, I'm not disappointed. I hit the ball all right but I didn't make any putts."

Woods lipped out enough putts for him to say that he had a case of "liprosy."

It’s not what
network execs
had in mind

Few big-name golfers were
still playing when ESPN's
coverage began

By Paul Arnett

KAPALUA, Maui -- By the time the national television audience tuned in to the $3.5 million Mercedes Championships on ESPN, Phil Mickelson, Hal Sutton and Tom Lehman were halfway to Honolulu.

David Duval and Tiger Woods were so deep into their rounds, if you went out to get something to eat after the two National Football League games, you missed them.

Only fellow top 10 golfers Ernie Els and Vijay Singh represented the royalty of the PGA Tour, and they just pretended to be contending for the title. Over the back nine, it quickly became a two-man race between No. 15 Jim Furyk and No. 84 Rory Sabbatini.

And while the Pac-10 Arizona Wildcats were well-represented in this stretch drive, it wasn't exactly what network officials had in mind. Even the finish was flawed. After Furyk nailed a 20-foot putt for birdie on the 18th, he had his driver in hand in preparation for a sudden-death playoff that wasn't to be.

At 24, Sabbatini, the youngest player in the 33-man field, hiccupped over a 3-foot birdie putt on the 18th to give Furyk his sixth PGA Tour victory and the second win on the sprawling par-73 Plantation Course. A wrist injury severely limited his practice time, leaving golf fans to wonder -- how did this happen?

In two PGA Tour events this season, Furyk and No. 91 Steve Stricker are the fortunate survivors. Not Woods, who confessed yesterday he would have competed in the match-play event in Australia if not for this week's stop on Maui.

No. 2-ranked Els had several chances to come to the rescue, but a disastrous back nine on Saturday and a so-so 69 finish yesterday left him in a tie for third with Singh. The 2000 Masters winner was even more blah with a 71, forcing the fringe fans to find their remote.

"Anytime Tiger enters the field, you've got to think that no matter what, on Sunday, he's going to have a chance to win," Furyk said. "He put himself behind the eight-ball early this week, only 3-under the first couple of days.

"He can't do it every week. He's human. He's not a machine. I think the expectations after last year are going to be extremely high. I don't really know how you top last year. I think we've said that for a couple of years, and he keeps doing it. Last year was just unbelievable."

Woods didn't match those expectations this weekend, but look for him to be sharper after returning to the Tour in two weeks. He feels a little practice working on certain aspects of his game will correct the problems he encountered this weekend.

The 25-year-old commented on the grain of the Bermuda greens several times during the course of the event. He left a lot of putts just short or a tad off. Woods called it "lip-o-suction," then flashed that winning smile.

"I played better the last two rounds," said Woods, who was 9-under for the weekend. "I just couldn't get anything going the first two days. I still felt pretty good out there. Had I made a few more of those putts I just missed, maybe things would have been a little different."

Woods, Duval and Mickelson are some of the top names skipping this week's Sony Open. But there are still plenty of name acts who will be looking to do what Paul Azinger did last year -- win.

Joining Furyk, Els, Singh, Lehman and Azinger this week is Davis Love III. The No. 7-ranked golfer skipped the Sony Open last year, but gives the field a little more heft as they prepare for the $4 million tournament.

"I like playing over here," Els said. "You can get off to a good start if you play well in these first four or five tournaments. I don't know what happened to me over the weekend. If I don't get in my own way, I could have won this week."

Pak Swings into new year: New coach, new caddie, new swing, and now, Se Ri Pak has a victory to begin the new season.

Pak birdied seven of the last 11 holes to beat Penny Hammel and Carin Koch by four strokes yesterday in the YourLife Vitamins LPGA Classic in Orlando, Fla.

Wiebe Tucson leader: Mark Wiebe, shot a 6-under-par 66 on in the Tucson Open to put himself in position for his first victory in 15 years. Wiebe is at 14-under 202 after yesterday's third round, two shots ahead of Garrett Willis.

The weather-delayed tournament is scheduled to finish today.

Easy hole
hard for Sabbatini

By Paul Arnett

KAPALUA, Maui -- The easiest hole on the course did in Rory Sabbatini.

He pulled a tricky three-foot putt just enough to lip it out and finish with a par to lose to Jim Furyk by one shot at yesterday's $3.5 million Mercedes Championships. While not the easiest hole during yesterday's fourth round, for the week, the 663-yard 18th surrendered five eagles and 63 birdies for a 4.538 scoring average.

"If you par that hole, you feel like you've lost one shot to the field," Tiger Woods said. He birdied it three of four days and three-putted on Friday for a par. "It's a great finishing hole. It's beautiful up there. It's long, but you can reach it in two. And that makes it exciting for the fans, who were really great this week."

Watch the birdies

Tom Lehman had one of the 16 birdies No. 18 gave up yesterday. In fact, Lehman, who finished in a tie for 26th, birdied all four par-5s en route to a final round 71. He wasn't as fortunate on the par-3 eighth.

He had a bogey on the 203-yard hole that proved to be the most difficult for the PGA Tour players. The golfers must carry a huge ravine that guards the hole out front. It's so large, the players have to ride carts from tee to green.

There were 20 birdies, 22 bogeys, four double bogeys and a triple bogey by Phil Mickelson on Thursday. The scoring average was a hefty 3.098. The par-4 fourth was the second-hardest at 4.068.

"If the wind is blowing, there are several holes out there that are difficult," Ernie Els said. "But the more you play this course, the more you get to know it. And you can play well in the right conditions."

Els in the West Coast Swing lead

Els' tie for third yesterday gives him the early lead in the PGA Tour West Coast Swing that's presented by The St. Paul. Els, who came into the Mercedes with 50 points that he earned for finishing fourth at the WGC-Accenture Match Play championship, added 60 points yesterday for a total of 110.

Furyk earned 100 points for the victory to move into a tie for second with Steve Stricker, who won last week's match play tournament in Australia. Woods won the West Coast Swing last year and Mickelson took the inaugural title in 1998.

"You want to get off to a good start and this has always been a favorite place for me," Furyk said. "I was excited about playing here. And I'm looking forward to the Sony Open this week."

Azinger missing pieces

There were times when it appeared Paul Azinger would continue his love-affair with Hawaii by contending for this weekend's Mercedes crown. He shot a blistering 6-under 31 on the back side on Friday and a 5-under 31 on the front side on Saturday.

Azinger qualified for this week's 33-man field by winning last year's Sony Open in dramatic fashion. He has always played well on Bermuda greens and is hopeful he can put it all together this week at the Waialae Country Club.

Amidst those two rounds of 31, Azinger also had a 39 on the front side on Thursday and another yesterday to keep him from contending. He finished tied for 17th at 9-under, nine strokes off Furyk's pace.

International feel

Three of the top four finishers in yesterday's Mercedes were among the seven golfers born outside the United States. They are South Africans Sabbatini and Els, and Vijay Singh from Fiji.

The remaining four competing this past week were Mike Weir (Canada), Carlos Franco (Paraguay), Jesper Parnevik (Sweden) and Robert Allenby (Australia).

 | | |

Mercedes Championships

At Kapalua, Hawaii
$3.5 million

Yardage: 7,263; Par: 73

Final round results

Jim Furyk, $630,00069-69-69-67--274
Rory Sabbatini, $380,00069-69-65-72--275
Ernie Els, $203,00068-66-73-69--276
Vijay Singh, $203,00071-67-67-71--276
John Huston, $140,00074-67-69-67--277
Rocco Mediate, $126,00070-69-70-69--278
David Duval, $118,00073-71-65-70--279
Michael Clark II, $99,00069-70-72-69--280
Tiger Woods, $99,00070-73-68-69--280
Justin Leonard, $99,00067-73-69-71--280
David Toms, $99,00070-71-67-72--280
Stewart Cink, $78,00069-71-69-72--281
Dennis Paulson, $78,00070-72-67-72--281
Billy Andrade, $78,00069-70-69-73--281
Mike Weir, $78,00070-70-68-73--281
Kirk Triplett, $70,00071-73-68-70--282
Chris DiMarco, $66,00071-73-69-70--283
Paul Azinger, $66,00070-70-68-75--283
Dudley Hart, $60,00070-77-69-68--284
Carlos Franco, $60,00070-76-68-70--284
Loren Roberts, $60,00074-69-71-70--284
Duffy Waldorf, $60,00070-70-71-73--284
Jesper Parnevik, $54,50076-66-72-71--285
Brad Faxon, $54,50071-70-71-73--285
Hal Sutton, $53,00070-74-73-69--286
Tom Lehman, $51,50074-73-71-71--289
Tom Scherrer, $51,50074-71-72-72--289
Robert Allenby, $49,50072-74-73-71--290
Phil Mickelson, $49,50072-73-72-73--290
Scott Verplank, $48,00074-73-71-73--291
Jim Carter, $47,00080-72-72-72--296
Notah Begay III, $46,00075-76-71-75--297
Steve Lowery, $45,00080-73-71-75--299

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