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Australian Soaks It In

Golf: Allenby doesn't sweat soggy final round, winning six-man playoff at Riviera with a birdie on the first extra hole.

February 26, 2001|MIKE PENNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Alongside mud and puddles, six men huddled, beaten down by six hours of unrelenting rain at Riviera Country Club, wet and weary but unable to do anything to come in from the cold.

Australian Robert Allenby or Jeff Sluman could have put everyone out of their misery Sunday, but both men bogeyed the 18th hole of the final round of the Nissan Open.

Toshi Izawa, Brandel Chamblee, Bob Tway and Dennis Paulson could have done the smart thing, tanked their final putts and rowed the boat ashore into the clubhouse for warm clothes and a cup of coffee. But, no, all four sank those putts for par and a piece of bone-chilling history.

There they stood under their umbrellas, six men at eight strokes under par after 72 holes of regulation, stumped for any ideas how to finally end this thing, resigned to the fact that there was no way out except to wade through a sudden-death playoff--a six-man playoff, equaling the PGA record.

Thankfully, Allenby figured out a solution with his next three strokes, beating the life rafts and the Coast Guard by minutes. Birdieing the same hole he had just bogeyed, Allenby ended the playoff quickly and mercifully to win the $612,000 first-place prize, which he will need to buy cold medicine.

Allenby, a 29-year-old beginning his third year on the PGA Tour, finally ended a waterlogged tournament with a spectacular approach shot on the first playoff hole, No. 18. His shot resting 220 yards short of the pin, Allenby choked down on a three-wood for a pontoon-landing six feet from the hole.

From there, Allenby putted in for the birdie and the championship, his third of the PGA after winning the Shell Houston Open and the Advil Western Open last year.

With the win, Allenby remained undefeated in playoffs--7-0 as a professional, 3-0 on the PGA Tour.

"Playoffs are kind of fun," Allenby said, "especially when you get six guys lined up, all ready to go. It's just a matter of who can get it to the hole the quickest."

Allenby figured that had better be him, since no volunteers were stepping forward, and no concession stands at Riviera were selling life preservers.

"Realistically, I knew that someone had to make a birdie to win," Allenby said. "I knew that a few of the guys would make par and we'd move on to the next hole. So, pretty much, I was trying to make birdie. I was trying to get the perfect shot in there at the last. And I came up with it.

"I felt like I had nothing to lose and all to gain."

And that accurately described Allenby's climactic approach shot: all or nothing. Forsaking the safe and sane club for the situation, a two-iron, Allenby decided to "just choke down on a three-wood and see what happens."

The resulting shot, Allenby said, was "one of my best, definitely up there."

"To pull it off under those conditions, with pouring rain and five guys on your heels, to come up there and do that, that'll be definitely a shot that will stay in my memory for a long time," he added.

The six-man playoff was the second in PGA history. The first occurred at the 1994 Byron Nelson Classic, won by Neal Lancaster.

This six-some never would have congregated, however, were it not for a backstretch blowout by third-round leader Davis Love III. Love began the day with a three-stroke lead, 10 under par after 54 holes, and still led by a stroke at 10 under after a birdie on No. 14 Sunday.

Then, the dam burst. Love hit bunkers on both the 15th and 16th holes, taking a double-bogey on 15 and a bogey on 16. Par on 17 left him needing a birdie to join the playoff, but Love three-putted from the fringe for another bogey, finishing the round at a four-over-par 75, dropping him into a five-way tie for eighth place at 278, six-under, for the tournament.

Tiger Woods, still winless in 2001, fell out of contention early in the day and finished with a final round of par, 71. Woods birdied No. 1, bogeyed No. 2 and logged pars until a 14th-hole birdie, followed by a 16th-hole bogey. He finished tied for 13th for the tournament at 279, five under par.

As Love struggled with the sludge that began the day as bunker sand--Love should have strapped on mud-flaps for his wedge shots--Izawa, Tway and Chamblee, long finished and off the course at eight-under 276, suddenly had to towel off their clubs and loosen up for a possible playoff.

They would be joined by Paulson, steadily making par on each of his final three holes, and Allenby and Sluman, who both bogeyed 18.

Allenby had to scrape for that, scuffing his approach shot to remain on the rough, then chipping up and putting in from six feet to join the others at 276.

In the playoff, Izawa's drive into a puddle left of the fairway put him in immediate trouble. Of the others, Paulson had the best chance to keep pace with Allenby, but his long birdie putt lipped out, setting up Allenby for the winner.

"It lipped out, but it didn't matter," Paulson said. "[Allenby] wasn't going to miss that. No way. Not after that great shot."

Allenby seconded that opinion.

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