Originally created 04/28/97

Nobilo reigns at Greensboro



GREENSBORO, N.C. - Frank Nobilo can thank buddy and former U.S. Open champion Ernie Els for his first win on the PGA Tour.

Nobilo missed his third cut in five American tournaments last week and was about to skip the Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic when Els told his 36-year-old New Zealand roommate he was going to play this week - period.

"I was really annoyed with myself, because I thought I was starting to play well," said Nobilo, reflecting back on another missed cut at the MCI Classic. "So my girlfriend starting chatting with Ernie and said, `You've got to get him to play.'

"Ernie is about 6-foot-4 ... he came in the room, looked at me and said, `You're playing."'

Nobilo is glad he took Els' advice after he birdied six of his final 11 holes Sunday, then made a scrambling par on the first playoff hole to beat Brad Faxon.

Nobilo, who started the day five shots off the lead, tied Faxon at 14-under-par 274 through 72 holes, forcing the fifth playoff in the last 10 years at a sopping wet Forest Oaks Country Club course.

The rain was pelting down on the pair, temperatures stood in the low 50s and No. 18 was close to unplayable for the first sudden-death playoff hole. Faxon appeared to have the edge when Nobilo - who had to wait 45 minutes for Faxon to finish - drove into the left rough off the tee and could advance his second shot only within 75 yards of the green.

But Faxon, now 1-5 in playoffs, caught a bad break when his approach shot landed in a section of the green that would constitute a putt through the fringe. Faxon chose to take a drop in the light rough under the clean and place rules being used in the inclement weather. He then chipped toward the hole instead of putting. But his third shot sailed 12 feet past the hole and he missed the putt.

Nobilo, however, hit his third shot within 8 feet and drilled his par-saving putt to claim his first PGA Tour win and the $342,000 check that went with it.

"There was nothing I could do, I had to accept the fact that I couldn't make anything better than a 4," Nobilo said of his final hole strategy after his drive in the rough. "(Faxon's) putt was almost in the same line as mine, so when I saw his go right I just putted mine inside left and it was quite nice."

Nobilo is considered a tour rookie despite winning eight events around the world over the last 12 years. He said he will cherish his first win on the PGA tour, because he's rebounded from a poor last six months, mostly due to health problems.

"This one will go to the top of the tree," Nobilo said.

He caught Faxon with a final-round 67 as Faxon could manage just a 72. Faxon had gone 45 holes without a bogey, but bogeyed two of his final five holes of regulation, forcing the playoff in the virtual monsoon.

"That was as hard of conditions that we've had to play in a long time," Faxon said of the weather. "The last five holes we couldn't find places to drop, there was casual water everywhere. It was really hard.

"I am very disappointed. I'm exhausted," Faxon added.

Faxon finished second for the second week in a row and for the seventh time in the last three years. He forced the playoff when he recovered from a drive in the heavy rough on No. 18 with a fairway wood, putting from 100 feet off the green to 2 feet to save his par.

Faxon won earlier this year at New Orleans.

Kirk Triplett finished in third place at 13 under, one shot behind Faxon and Nobilo.

Tom Kite, tied for the lead to start the day and playing with Faxon in the last twosome, immediately fell behind by two shots on the first hole. He drove left into heavy rough and carded a double-bogey 6.

Kite dropped four shots back of Faxon when he bogeyed No. 8. His tee shot caught a poor lie in a green-side bunker and he missed a 12-foot putt to fall off the leaderboard.