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Brian Gay wins Humana Challenge in a playoff

He sinks a 5 1/2-foot birdie putt on the second extra hole to defeat Charles Howell III.

January 21, 2013|By Diane Pucin, Los Angeles Times

Brian Gay, who has a soul patch and spiky blond hair, does not have his birthdate listed in the massive PGA Media Guide. One tour official said that was on purpose. Gay denied any age fear and said he is 41.

Maybe age truly is only a number when you shoot a final-round 63 and then calmly sink a five-and-a-half-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole. That's what Gay did Sunday to win the Humana Challenge tournament at the PGA West-Palmer course in La Quinta.

Gay triumphed after being part of a three-man playoff that included Charles Howell III and David Lingmerth but not third-round leader Scott Stallings.

Stallings had come into the final round with a seemingly insurmountable five-shot lead. But the 27-year-old Stallings bogeyed two of the final three holes and finished with a fourth round of two-under-par 70 that left him tied for fourth with James Hahn.

Gay, Howell and Lingmerth, who finished regulation at 25-under-par 263, all said they had come to the final round expecting to be playing for something other than first place.

"Quite honestly," Howell said, "I didn't think anybody had a chance apart from Scott. He's won before, he hits it long enough to take advantage of the par-fives and, at 22 under to start the day I figured … he's really not catchable."

The victory earned Gay the winner's check of $1.008 million and guaranteed him a spot in the Masters, in which he has played only once before (2010, when he didn't make the cut).

"I've been waiting to go back," Gay said. "I grew up in Georgia. My mother's family is about 45 minutes from Augusta. Luckily, that thought didn't even come into my mind until right after the playoff. I'm glad I didn't think about it."

Howell was absolutely thinking about it. "I'm really disappointed," he said, "because I wanted to get back into the Masters. Quite honestly, that thought crossed my mind. It's so darn hard to win out here and when you have a chance, it's painful to let it slip by.

"Once we got to the playoff, I thought of it as sort of a three-man race for a spot in the Masters," Howell said.

In the playoff, Gay and Howell each started with a birdie on the 18th and eliminated Lingmerth, who bogeyed.

On what turned out to be the final playoff hole, the par-four 10th, Gay hit a picture-perfect drive into the middle of the fairway; Howell's first shot ended up in the rough. Those two shots led to what turned into the win for Gay.

"This feels amazing right now," Gay said. "I'm still in a little bit of shock."

Stallings finally and totally lost control of the tournament on the par-five 18th hole when he hit off rocks and into water. Stallings had to drop the ball, he said, in a bad area after the water shot.

"I shouldn't have been there in the first place," Stallings said. "I know that. Everyone knows that."

And now almost everyone knows that Gay is 41 years old. And a winner.

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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