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San Diego Open : Birdie on 72nd Hole Gives Pate a Victory

February 22, 1988|CURT HOLBREICH | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — The last time Steve Pate won a golf tournament he got help from the fury of Mother Nature. All it took Sunday was a six-foot putt.

Pate sank that putt for a birdie on the final hole to give him a one-stroke victory over Jay Haas in the Shearson Lehman Hutton Andy Williams Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course.

The victory was Pate's second in six weeks. But unlike his earlier one at the storm-shortened MONY Tournament of Champions at La Costa Country Club, Pate had to play this one down to the last stroke.

"I played very well at the Tournament of Champions, and I felt good about winning that," said Pate, who joined the tour in the fall of 1984 after he graduated from UCLA. "It's just a different feeling to come down to the last hole and make birdie to win."

The putt gave him a final round of 68 and a 72-hole total of 19-under-par 269. That left Haas standing on the putting green, practicing for a playoff that never materialized.

Haas was the clubhouse leader after his eagle 3 on the 18th a half hour earlier had tied him for the day's low round at 66 and given him a four-round total of 270.

Joey Sindelar and Gil Morgan finished behind Haas in third at 271.

Pate came to the final hole knowing that he needed a birdie to beat Haas.

The 18th is a 499-yard, par-5 that many of the players had been reaching in two. Pate had eagled it in the third round, but when he sliced his drive Sunday, he feared he was in serious trouble.

"I looked at the ball off the tee and I was just hoping I had a shot to get back to the fairway because there are quite a few trees over there," Pate said.

Sure enough, Pate's ball had landed not far from one of them, leaving him no choice but to hit out into the fairway.

"I actually had a clear shot to the green, but I didn't have a swing," Pate said. "I was up against a tree. So I hit a wedge back over the trees.

"It left me with a good situation--110 yards into the wind. It was no problem. It was a nice comfortable full wedge."

Pate had the choice of playing on the green safely, secure that he could two-putt, or trying to knock it over a water hazard right at the stick to try for birdie.

He dropped his third shot six feet from the cup.

"That was a pretty gutsy shot," said Haas, the 1978 champion. "If it was me, I would have shot long to make sure I got past the flag and at least given myself a chance to putt and get into a playoff. He obviously played the correct shot."

Until Haas came along with his eagle, it had begun to appear as if Pate might only have to par his way around the final four holes to win.

Tom Watson and Hal Sutton, the two most recognizable names among the third-round contenders, were in the process of shooting themselves out of the tournament. Watson shot a two-over-par 74 on the final round to finish at 277. Sutton ended the tournament with a double-bogey on the 18th for a 76 and four-round total of 278.

Brad Faxon, who led Pate by one stroke after the third-round, started his next round the same way the first- and second-round leaders had begun their next rounds--stumbling at the first hole.

Faxon bogeyed the first hole and went on to shoot a 72, finishing three strokes behind Pate in a five-way tie for fourth at 16-under-par 272.

Pate, meanwhile, opened with a birdie. He went on to eagle No. 6 and birdie No. 7 to take a three-stroke lead over Mark McCumber at 19 under par. For the first time in the tournament, the leader threatened to pull away.

But after Pate bogeyed the next hole, birdied No. 10 and then bogeyed No. 14 after hitting into a bunker, the field came charging. The last bogey left him at 18 under par, just one stroke ahead of six other players.

Then events took an unusual twist. In a tournament that had been dominated by three and a half rounds of torrid scoring, suddenly the other contenders began to falter.

Willie Wood and Roger Maltbie bogeyed No. 15; Gary Koch took a double bogey at No. 16; Tom Kite and Faxon bogeyed No. 17, and McCumber had a double bogey at No. 18.

That left Haas putting for practice in front of the clubhouse, and Pate on the 18th putting for $117,000.

"It was only six feet, but it was a pretty tough putt," Pate said. "It was two or three inches outside of the hole."

Pate held the tournament in his putter. Yet he hardly hesitated. He stepped up the ball and dropped it home.

His only exhilaration was a quick clenched fist. But after he stooped to pick up the ball, he came up with a deep exhale of relief.

"The other win was nice," Pate said. "But it's a lot more fun winning that way."

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