Originally created 03/02/98

Mayfair putts to Nissan win over Woods

VALENCIA, Calif. -- Billy Mayfair ended a two-year run of bad putts, bad bounces and self-doubt. Tiger Woods came oh-so-close again, but was left looking for his first tour win since July.

Mayfair, who won two tournaments and finished second on the money list in 1995 then slipped into a slump, caught Woods by sinking a 4-foot birdie putt on the final hole of regulation Sunday.

He then rolled in a 5-footer for another birdie on the same hole shortly thereafter to win the Nissan Open and a trip to Augusta for the 1998 Masters Tournament.

Woods, who has finished second twice and third once in tour events this year and also won recently in Thailand, shot a closing 5-under-par 66 that included birdies on three of his last four holes in regulation.

But his pitch from 40 yards on the first playoff hole rolled 18 feet beyond the pin, and his putt coming back stayed left, giving Mayfair his chance.

"Having won and having beaten the best player out here, it's awesome," said Mayfair, who was in the group behind Woods and had a 67 to finish at 12-under. "There was no doubt in my mind that Tiger would play well, but I wasn't going to change my game because of him."

Woods, who made his tour debut in this tournament in 1992 and missed the cut as a 16-year-old amateur that year, obviously was disappointed he didn't win in front of a hometown crowd. But he was happy with his effort.

"The great thing is, granted that I didn't win, but that I birdied three of the last four," Woods said. "I wanted to go to 12-under, which I thought would be a winning number, and I did.

"Billy played great, played steady golf."

Asked if he would reflect on "letting this one get away," Woods said, "I don't see it as getting away from me. I was right there. I made some good putts, hit some good shots. And I had a chance on the first playoff hole."

Woods, who grew up in Los Angeles, said he enjoyed having his friends and family at the tournament, and also the fact that Charlie Sifford, the first black player to win a tour event, was honored at the event.

"It was a special week," Woods said. "Charlie, he's like a grandfather to me."

Mayfair essentially won it when he hit his wedge from 90 yards within close birdie range on the playoff hole.

Woods pushed his tee shot into the gallery on the right for the second time in a row, hit his second shot 40 yards short of the green, then left himself a long birdie try.

Mayfair had a career year in 1995, when he won twice and finished second on the money list with $1.4 million. Since then, he had lost his touch -- and his confidence.

But, in winning the fourth title of his career, Mayfair led the first two days, lost the lead the third, then came back to beat Woods.

After Woods birdied No. 18 to go one shot up, Mayfair hit his second shot into the sand to the left of the green, some 25 feet from the pin, with a hump between him and the hole. Needing to get down in two to force a playoff, Mayfair, one of the tour's best bunker players, lofted his wedge shot within 4 feet, then knocked in the putt.

Woods put the pressure on Mayfair with an adventurous finish to regulation. He pushed his tee shot to the right, over the gallery and into the trees. He got a free drop because he would have had to stand on the paved cart path to hit.

Woods hit his second shot into the trap on the left of the green. His shot out of the sand skipped 12 feet past the hole and nestled up against the fringe. After all the trouble, he then curled in his 12-foot birdie putt to go to 12-under, pumped his arms in celebration, signed his card and waited for Mayfair to play 18.

Stephen Ames, the first and only native of Trinidad on the tour, finished third with a 68 that left him at 9-under. The finish was the highest for Ames, who tied for fifth at the British Open last year.

John Daly, showing signs that he's back from an ongoing battle with alcohol abuse, shot his second consecutive 66 at Valencia Country Club to move into a tie with Payne Stewart for fourth place, at 8-under. Stewart closed with a 70.

Third-round leader Tommy Armour III shot a 73 to fall into a tie for sixth.

The tournament normally is at Riviera Country Club, but was shifted to Valencia, 40 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, because Riviera is being readied for the U.S. Senior Open in July. It was the first time a PGA event was held at Valencia.


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