On soggy course, Kaye finishes with a splash

After 194 starts on the PGA Tour without a victory, Jonathan Kaye did not mind working overtime.

CLIFTON BROWN

After 194 starts on the PGA Tour without a victory, Jonathan Kaye did not mind working overtime.

Making a 12-foot eagle putt on the first hole of sudden death on Sunday, Kaye captured his first tour victory, edging John Rollins in a playoff to end the Buick Classic. With at least a half-dozen players reaching the soggy back nine at Westchester Country Club in contention, Kaye emerged from the pack, ending a grueling day of golf with a birdie-eagle finish.

Kaye and Rollins were both 13 under par, two shots ahead of Joey Sindelar, who finished third. Meanwhile, Tiger Woods tied for 13th place (seven under par), struggling with his putter and never making a serious run.

In the past, something always seemed to go wrong for Kaye whenever he had a chance to win. Five times he had finished second, including last year at the Reno-Tahoe Classic, when he lost to Chris Riley in a sudden-death playoff. However, at age 32, Kaye still believed he had time, and he still believed in his game. That confidence was rewarded during the final round, when Kaye held off a pack of pursuers and prevailed over a strong field that included better-known players like Woods, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk and David Toms.

"It feels great,'' said Kaye, who earned $900,000. "I don't know if it's sunk in yet. I've had a lot of chances and I haven't come through, so it's nice to finally come out on top.'' Kaye was severely tested during a long, grueling day on a soggy, demanding golf course. After heavy rain on Saturday forced the third round to be suspended, the field returned at 9 a.m. on Sunday to complete the third round, followed by fourth-round play in the afternoon.

Beginning the day five strokes behind the leader, Briny Baird, who dropped to 30th place after a final-round 77, Kaye played 30 determined holes, and his last two were the best. With Rollins already in the clubhouse at 13 under par, Kaye came to the 18th hole in regulation knowing he needed a birdie to force the playoff. And Kaye delivered, reaching the fringe of the green in two shots, and making a 4-footer for birdie. Rollins, who won last year's Bell Canadian Open, made a crucial mistake on the playoff hole at No. 18, pulling his tee shot into the left rough, giving him no chance to reach the green in two shots.

"The worst tee shot all day for me,'' said Rollins, who birdied No. 18 in regulation.

After Rollins hit his second shot back into the fairway, Kaye hit a strong approach shot onto the back fringe of the green.

Rollins then hit his third shot onto the green, but when he missed an 18-foot attempt for birdie, Kaye had two putts to win the tournament. He only needed one, making the 12-footer for eagle. It ended an unpredictable final day, with so many holes to be played and so many players in contention. But one by one, they faded.

Sindelar did not make a birdie on the front nine. Sergio Garcia, who tied for fourth place at 10 under par, made a crucial bogey on No. 18, when he hit his second shot into the greenside rough, followed by a weak pitch shot that never made it out of the rough, followed by another poor chip shot that barely rolled onto the green.

Baird had a terrible day, after leading the first three days. Skip Kendall, who also tied for fourth, made costly bogeys at No. 10 and No. 15 from which he never recovered. And J. L. Lewis, who tied for eighth (nine under), made a costly double bogey at No. 16 that ended his hopes of winning.

At one point on the back nine, six players were within two strokes of the lead, but it boiled down to Kaye and Rollins, two players who many did not expect to be there, but who handled it as if they had been in contention many times before.

"I played great all week,'' Rollins said. "My hat is off to him for making the eagle. That's strong.'' Kaye was suspended for two months last year by the tour after getting in an argument with a security guard at the Michelob Championship at Kingsmill. Though he refused to elaborate on the incident, Kaye insisted he was not to blame.

"Let's just leave it alone,'' Kaye said when asked about it.

"Nobody really knows what happened there except me and that guard.'' Kaye figured he was due for a victory, and he was glad to prevail at Westchester. Whenever Kaye needed a crucial putt to save par, or to make a key birdie, he seemed to make them.

"This happens to be my favourite golf course on tour,'' Kaye said.

"We don't play many classic golf courses like this anymore.'' Kaye was bothered by a sore left knee during the final round, after hurting it on Saturday when he sat down the wrong way on a cooler.

"My caddie lifted it up, and I went to sit down when it was open,'' Kaye said. "I sat right in the cooler.'' But on Sunday night, Kaye had reason to celebrate, after a long weekend that finally ended with him in first place.

"That's why we're all out here — to win,'' Kaye said. "I'm glad I was able to do it.''

The scores ($5 million Buick Classic, played at the 6,783-yard, par-71 Westchester Country Club): Final Round: Jonathan Kaye, $900,000, 70-66-68-67 — 271; John Rollins, $540,000, 70-67-67-67 — 271; Joey Sindelar, $340,000, 66-69-70-68 — 273; Sergio Garcia, $196,875, 70-69-66-69 — 274; Fred Funk, $196,875, 71-70-64-69 — 274; Jay Haas, $196,875, 74-68-67-65 — 274; Skip Kendall, $196,875, 68-66-70-70 — 274; Tom Lehman, $145,000, 71-70-68-66 — 275; J.L. Lewis, $145,000, 68-68-70-69 — 275; Brad Faxon, $145,000, 69-67-74-65 — 275.

New York Times News Service