Monday, March 15, 2004

Hamilton puts dramatic touch on unlikely win

Birdies final two holes to beat Love

The Associated Press

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Any PGA Tour rookie dreams of a birdie-birdie finish to win. Considering where Todd Hamilton has been, and how long it took him to get here, Sunday at the Honda Classic felt like fantasy.

After blowing a four-shot lead, Hamilton recovered with a 10-foot birdie putt to regain a share of the lead, then finished off Davis Love III with an 8-iron into 4 feet on the final hole.

"This is a dream come true," said Hamilton, who closed with a 2-over 74. "There's probably a lot of other golfers who deserve it more talent-wise, but I guarantee you no one will appreciate it more than I will."

Not many others have spent 17 years just trying to reach golf's biggest arena. Hamilton spent a dozen years toiling in Asia, playing everywhere from Pakistan to Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, and went through PGA Tour qualifying eight times before he finally got his card in December.

Just look at him now.

Hamilton, who finished at 12-under 276, earned $900,000 - almost as much as his best year in Japan - along with a two-year exemption on tour. The perks don't stop there.

He should easily move into the top 50 in the world ranking and qualify for the Masters.

"Until I got my tour card, I always doubted something like this would happen," he said. "I don't think it's sunk in."

Love, who played college golf against Hamilton and was trying to win for the 19th time on tour, had to settle for runner-up in the Honda Classic for the second straight year. He closed with a 69. "He finished like a true champion and birdied those last two holes when he knew he had to do it," Love said. "It's a great, great story. I know he's worked long and hard for it."

CHAMPIONS TOUR: Gil Morgan won the SBC Classic for the third time Sunday, closing with a 3-under 69 for a two-stroke victory over Larry Nelson at Santa Clarita, Calif.

Morgan has 23 victories on the 50-and-over tour, including the Kroger Classic twice, to tie Bob Charles for fourth place on the career list. Morgan won seven times on the PGA Tour, including two victories in the Los Angeles Open.

Second last year at Valencia Country Club after winning in 1996 and 1997 at Wilshire Country Club, Morgan had a 14-under 202 total. Nelson eagled the par-5 18th for his third straight 68, and tour newcomer Peter Jacobsen shot a 67 to finish third at 11 under.

LPGA TOUR: Karen Stupples had a breakthrough week at Randolph Park in Tucson, Ariz., shooting the best 72-hole score in tour history to win her first title.

The Englishwoman, 30, broke the tour record for raw score, closing with a 7-under 63 to finish the Welch's/Fry's Championship at 22-under 258. She beat Grace Park and Jung Yeon Lee by five strokes in the season-opening tournament.

Wendy Doolan set the previous record (259) last year, the first time the tournament was played on the 6,176-yard Dell Urich layout. Annika Sorenstam's 261 in 2001 at Moon Valley in Phoenix is the tour's best for a par-72 course.

Stupples, who had never finished higher than a tie for third in five previous seasons on the tour, eagled the 13th hole to pull away from her nearest rivals.

QATAR MASTERS: Sweden's Joakim Haeggman shot a 7-under-par 65 for a one-shot victory over Japan's Nobuhito Sato. Haeggman finished at 16-under 272 at the Doha Golf Club for his third win on the European Tour. Sato closed with a 4-under 68 for a 15-under 273 total.

The first Swede to play in the Ryder Cup in 1993, Haeggman missed seven months last year because of a hockey injury.

"Many more tournaments are coming up, and winning here, under pressure, has given me a lot of confidence," Haeggman said. "I can cope with the pressure and play at the highest level."

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Golf: Hamilton puts dramatic touch on unlikely win
Earnhardt leaves troubles, field behind
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Which Xavier win was bigger: UC when the Bearcats were ranked No. 1 or No. 1 St. Joseph's?