Owen's gaffe leads to Pampling victory

Updated: March 22, 2006, 12:34 PM ET
Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The silver sword for winning the Bay Hill Invitational went to Rod Pampling.

Greg Owen felt like falling on one.

Owen had his first PGA Tour victory seemingly sewn up late Sunday afternoon, a two-shot lead and 40 inches left for a par on the 17th hole.

Greg Owen
AP/Robert AzmitiaOwen was fine off the tee, but it was on the final two greens that he really struggled.

Pampling figured it was over. Everyone did.

But the par putt slid by the right side of the cup, costing Owen a valuable cushion going to the tough 18th. Angry at the miss, he quickly stepped to the other side of the cup to rap in a 2-footer for bogey, only to see that one horseshoe around the cup, a double bogey that left him tied for the lead.

"It was one of those silly mistakes that I'll be remembered for," Owen said.

If golf wasn't cruel enough, Owen had a 12-foot par putt to force a playoff on the 18th hole, hit what he called his best stroke of the week, and watched it catch the back lip and spin out of the hole.

It was a finish that might well haunt him for some time.

"You don't get many chances to win on the PGA Tour, and on a great course like this," Owen said. "I had it in my pocket. It was there. And I threw it away."

Three putts from 40 inches cost him his first PGA Tour victory and a trip to the Masters. And it overshadowed a solid recovery from Pampling, who squandered a four-shot lead in the final round but hit the shots he needed at the end of the day. Pampling found the center of the 18th green with a 6-iron and two-putted for an even-par 72 and a victory that felt somewhat hollow.

Tournament host Arnold Palmer slipped the navy blazer over his shoulders and presented him the silver sword.

"He looked at me and just sort of went, 'Wow.' And that was exactly what I said to him," Pampling said. "It's one of those deals you don't know what to say after seeing that."

Pampling finished at 14-under 274 and earned $990,000 for his second PGA Tour victory. But it was difficult to celebrate this one. He apologized to Owen in the scoring trailer, not knowing what else to say.

Strangely enough, Pampling thought he gave away the tournament with a bad mistake of his own. He was two shots ahead of Owen when he hit his tee shot on the 13th hole into a backyard well right of the fairway, out of bounds. He made double bogey to fall into a tie for the lead, then struggled to keep up.

Pampling missed a 12-foot birdie putt on the 16th to fall one behind. And when he lipped out from 10 feet for par on the 17th, he headed to the 18th green believing it was over.

"When he missed the first putt, then I just figured, 'Oh, well, I'm still one behind,"' Pampling said. "Then I caught in the corner of my eye as it came back out. Obviously, it was a shock."

Still, Pampling gives himself some credit for the finish.

"Forgetting what happened on 17, I know I hit the shots I needed to hit on 18 to win the golf tournament," he said.

Darren Clarke never got closer than two shots of the lead throughout the final round, closed with a 70 and wound up alone in third. Robert Allenby finished fourth with a 69, and experienced an Owen moment of his own, although much earlier in the round. He missed a 3-foot par putt on the second hole, quickly went to tap in and missed that.

That was nothing like what Owen felt.

The 34-year-old from England won the British Masters before getting his PGA Tour card through Q-school two years ago. He played with poise on the weekend, and put pressure on Pampling with enough birdies that he had the best score of the final round -- until he got to No. 17.

Asked how he would deal with the loss, Owen said, "I'll find out tonight. But it won't be easy."

He might have thrown away a lot more than that. Owen was No. 95 in the world ranking, and a victory Sunday against a world-class field would have put him well inside the top 50 and make him eligible for the Masters. He still has a chance to get in next week at The Players Championship, moving up to the No. 53 this week.

"I don't even want to bring that into it," Owen said as he walked out the door. "It will only make it harder."

Tiger Woods was never a factor for the third straight year. Woods closed with a 72 to finish 10 shots behind, his 11th straight round at Bay Hill in the 70s.

The last six winners of Bay Hill all broke par in the final round, and Pampling was headed that direction. He opened with two birdies and seven pars to take a three-shot lead into the back nine. Owen was keeping pace, but Pampling was making it difficult by not making any mistakes.

Then, it all changed with one swing.

Pampling lost his tee shot so far to the right on the par-4 13th that it sailed into the neighborhood, out of bounds. He had to reload on the tee, hit wedge into 12 feet and missed the putt to take double bogey.

Just like that, he was tied for the lead

And all it took was one hole for Owen to take advantage. His tee shot on the par-3 14th rolled just through the green, and he holed that 30-footer for birdie and a one-shot lead. Pampling battled back, making a 12-foot birdie putt on the next hole to tie for the lead.

It came down to the final three holes, but ultimately was decided by three putts from 3 feet.

Divots

Bubba Watson was credited with a 351-yard drive, which is how far the ball traveled from the tee, over the water and into the fairway. But he cut off so much of the lake, that he had only 105 yards left for his second shot into a hole that was playing 544 yards. He hit sand wedge into 12 feet and two-putted for birdie. Bart Bryant hit a 301-yard tee shot away from the water and 265 yards to the hole. He laid up, hit sand wedge for his third shot and made birdie. ... Nick Faldo withdrew because of a chest cold.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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