With the greatest sand shot ever hit by the best bunker player on the PGA Tour, Paul Azinger made a lightning bolt of a birdie on the 72nd hole Sunday to steal the Memorial Tournament from his close friend, Payne Stewart.
Trailing Stewart by one stroke on the final hole, Azinger nipped the ball perfectly from what appeared to be a hopelessly difficult position at the bottom of a steep bunker. The ball, loaded with backspin, barely cleared the lip, skittered for two hops and then trickled toward the hole 20 feet away. After an excruciatingly slow journey, it teetered on the left edge and fell in.The spectacle brought an explosion of sound from the more than 25,000 fans packed into the natural amphitheater surrounding the 18th green at the Muirfield Village Golf Club and sent Azinger to his knees in the sand, his back arched and his long arms extended to the skies. More consequentially, it sent shock waves through Stewart, who then missed the 8-foot par putt he needed to tie.
"The only way to get it close was to try to whiff it, to just cut clean under it as much as I could," said Azinger, who in his 11-year career has led the PGA Tour in sand saves three times, more than any other player. "I thought, `Just barely get it out and it will reach.' It was the bunker shot of my life. It was a miracle."
Said the tournament host, Jack Nicklaus, who knows every shot on the course he built: "That bunker shot is so hard it would be difficult to get it close if you could toss the ball underhanded at the hole."
The miracle shot gave Azinger a final-round 69 and a 14-under total of 274, one stroke better than Corey Pavin, who closed fast with a 67. Stewart, who was so undone that he lipped out the 3-footer he had left after missing his putt to tie, finished alone in third at 276.
The victory was the ninth of Azinger's career and extended his tour-longest streak of at least one victory a year to seven. He won the 1989 Canon Greater Hartford Open by chipping in from the fringe on the final hole, but today's events overwhelmed the emotional 33-year-old.
"It's a part of our business that you really don't want to accept, especially when it happens to you," said Stewart. "I didn't play good enough to win today. That's the bottom line."
In Scarborough, N.Y., Bob Wynn sank a 22-foot birdie putt on the final hole Sunday to win the $550,000 NYNEX Commemorative golf tournament, his first PGA Senior Tour victory.
He shot a 4-under-par 66 to finish at 7-under 203, one stroke better than Bob Charles, Chi Chi Rodriguez and Larry Gilbert.
Wynn became the third first-time winner on the senior tour this year and is now exempt from qualifying for all co-sponsored events for one year.
In East Lansing, Mich., Jane Geddes, playing almost flawless golf, earned her first LPGA title since 1991 with a one-stroke victory in the Oldsmobile Classic.
She shot a 3-under-par 69 in the final round at Walnut Hills Country Club to finish at 11-under 277, one shot ahead of Alice Ritzman, Trish Johnson and Tammie Green.