While winning his first PGA Tour event in the first final-round playoff in International history, Steve Lowery had to overcome some crippling self-doubts.
Lowery, taking full advantage of the modified Stableford scoring system that is weighed heavily toward making eagles, used a pair of dramatic eagles on the back nine to charge back into contention, then beat former BYU golfer Rick Fehr in a sudden-death playoff Sunday.Lowery, 33, whose best previous finish in seven years on the Tour was a second at San Diego this year, admitted his thoughts weren't positive in his final round.
The University of Alabama graduate was four points behind third-round leader Keith Clearwater to start the final round, and he faded as much as 10 points behind Ernie Els early in the fourth round after two bogeys on his first five holes. Through 13 holes, Lowery had only 25 points - one fewer than when he started - and was still seven behind Els.
Asked if he had any great expectations heading toward the par-5 14th, Lowery said, "No, I really didn't. I was glancing at the leader board, and I was kind of dropping off of it. I wanted to stop the bleeding there, hit a good drive and try to get things back in order."
Although playoffs have been a fixture at the International in making daily cuts, never before was there been a playoff Sunday. Lowery and Fehr tied for first with 35 points, and Lowery prevailed on the first hole of sudden-death when Fehr drove into a pond on the right edge of the fairway at the par-4 ninth hole.
After taking a drop, Fehr hit his next shot into a greenside bunker and blasted out his fourth shot several feet from the cup. Lowery, meanwhile, made a routine par to pocket the $252,000 top prize.
Duffy Waldorf, who had the day's best round of 13 points, finished with 34, followed by Els at 33 and Tom Kite at 32.
On No. 14, Lowery hit a solid drive and a 3-iron that wound up 25 feet from the hole, but he confided to his caddie, Dale McElyea, "We're going to eagle both of these par-5s. But I honestly didn't think that would be enough."
He sank an eagle putt worth five points on that hole, and then eagled the par-5 17th as well, hitting his 5-iron second shot within two feet of the hole.
Those two 5-point holes made the difference. Although Lowery shot only a 1-under-par 71, he had nine points on the day.
"What a great format," Lowery said. "When you play aggressively and you make eagles or birdies, it definitely pays off."
Under the scoring system used here, a golfer received eight points for a double-eagle, five for eagle, two for birdie, zero for par, minus-1 for bogey and minus-3 for double bogey or worse.
The 24 finalists were separated by only 11 points to start Sunday's round, and the leader board became even more jammed - and rapidly fluctuating.
Lowery and Fehr both overtook Els late in the round, setting up the playoff.
Fehr started the day six points off the lead and, after a birdie at No. 1, he suffered a potentially disastrous double-bogey at the third hole, dropping three points to plus-23. After that, however, Fehr ran off six birdies.
"I strung some birdies together on the back nine to have a chance," Fehr said. "My tee shot on the playoff hole was just a bad swing."
"When Rick hit his tee shot into the water," said Lowery, the self-doubts still haunting him, "I honestly thought I would have to make birdie to win. Then I thought he would hole the bunker shot. When he didn't, I just said, `Please let me 2-putt.'
"It was just my time to win. When it's your time, nothing can get in the way. It's such an accomplishment to finally overcome the mental barrier and win."
* * *
In Coon Rapids, Minn., Dave Stockton's one-stroke victory in the Burnet Senior Classic over Jim Albus made him the only senior player ever to post consecutive million-dollar seasons.
* * *
In Naperville, Ill., Jane Geddes birdied five of the last seven holes on the way to a 5-under-par 67 and a three-stroke victory over Dale Eggeling and Robin Walton in the LPGA Chicago Challenge.
* * *
In Coventry, England, Colin Montgomerie sank a 10-foot birdie putt on the final hole to win the English Open by one stroke over Barry Lane, who led by two strokes with two holes to play.