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1996 PGA CHAMPIONSHIP

Brooks Saves the Babble, Lets Play Do the Talking

PGA: Understated Texan birdies No. 18, then does it again to beat Perry in one-hole playoff for first major victory.

August 12, 1996|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — He is a part-time chef who likes to create gourmet dishes and just look what Mark Brooks cooked up. . . .

May we present the PGA Championship?

The 35-year-old Texan, who won his first major golf title Sunday at Valhalla Golf Club, couldn't have ordered a better way to do it--a birdie on the 72nd hole to catch Kenny Perry and another birdie on the first playoff hole to beat him.

The typically reserved Brooks had his usual hard time expressing his feelings.

"Well, the end was just kind of a fairy-tale deal," he said finally.

Sure enough. Clearly it was grim for Perry. He was leading by two shots with one hole to play, but Brooks sneaked into a playoff when Perry bogeyed the 18th. As it turned out, he was only warming up for the biggest bogey of the day.

It was a big boo-boo, all right. Perry got caught watching TV.

He sat in the television booth while Brooks finished, instead of going to the driving range to hit balls and stay ready.

"Maybe I let my mind wander," Perry said. "I learned a good lesson. I guess it's a hard one."

Brooks learned that to win the PGA, you need to shoot a closing-round 70 for an 11-under-par total of 277 and be at least one shot better in a playoff.

Steve Elkington and Tommy Tolles tied for third, one shot behind, and there was a three-way tie for fifth among Justin Leonard, Vijay Singh and Jesper Parnevik.

But no one could beat Brooks, a 14-year professional grinder, a four-time graduate of qualifying school and now a major champion.

The PGA is his third victory this year--the others were the Bob Hope and Houston--and his $430,000 winner's check is the largest of his career.

But if nothing else, Brooks' first big professional triumph was a lesson in perseverance.

Two shots behind 54-hole leader Russ Cochran as the day began, Brooks took a one-shot lead with a birdie on the eighth hole, then bogeyed three of the first five holes on the back side to fall three shots behind.

Perry had moved to 12 under with successive birdies from No. 11-13, and his lead was two shots when he stepped up to the 18th tee. That silver PGA trophy was as good as postmarked for home back in Franklin, Ky.

Oh, but that 18th hole is going to bother Perry for a very long time. It's a simple 540-yard par five that everybody from here to Lexington can birdie.

On Sunday, it was the second-easiest hole on the course, with three eagles, 35 birdies, 33 pars and only 10 bogeys.

Perry had one of them, and it just so happened that it came on the last hole of regulation when a par would have been enough to win.

All those Kentucky fans were waiting to welcome him up the 18th fairway, but Perry hooked his tee shot into deep rough.

"I swung too hard I guess," he said. "I got too excited."

He wound up two-putting for a bogey six, then took a seat in the TV booth to witness his impending demise.

That didn't happen until Elkington and Singh failed to tie when they were looking for birdies on No. 18.

Elkington hit a three-wood for his second shot and the ball plugged in the bunker in front of the green. He said it was the first plugged lie he had seen all week.

"Maybe the Kentucky gods got me there," he said.

Elkington had to play a conservative shot out of the sand and left it 12 feet short of the hole. He two-putted from there for par, pulling the first putt a foot past.

So that took care of Elkington.

Singh drove left into a bunker, then hit a three-iron to the left of the green in the rough. From there, his pitch shot went over the green.

Singh's bogey six took care of him.

Some of the other contenders were already long gone. Phil Mickelson double-bogeyed No. 13 for the second day in a row and fell to a 72. After playing the first two rounds in 10 under, Mickelson played the last two in two over to finish tied for eighth at 280.

Cochran followed his course-record 65 of Saturday with a 77 and fell from the lead to a tie for 17th.

Perry sat in front of the TV monitor, confident that somebody would force a playoff with a birdie on No. 18.

Brooks was the only one left with a chance.

His distance to the hole on his second shot was 235 yards, but he was in between clubs and he hit his four-wood. The ball didn't carry the bunker. Brooks calmly knocked the ball out of the sand to within 3 1/2 feet, rolled in the birdie putt and the playoff was on.

Perry climbed down out of the booth and wanted to hit some balls to warm up, but there wasn't time, so he got into a golf cart and rode back to the 18th tee for the first playoff hole.

He decided to be aggressive and hit a driver, but the ball went left and wound up in the rough, just short of a bunker. The grass caught the club head and pulled the ball left on Perry's second shot, and his third shot stayed left and in the rough to the left of his green.

Brooks was on the green in two. His second shot landed on the right side of the large green with the hump in the middle.

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