Originally created 08/09/99

Pernice wins Buick Open



GRAND BLANC, Mich. -- Tom Pernice Jr. sailed past a faltering Tom Lehman with a final-round 65 Sunday to win the Buick Open, his first PGA Tour victory.

"Obviously, it really hasn't hit me," said Pernice, who made more money Sunday than in the first 16 years of his professional golf career. "The key was relaxing and avoiding looking at the leaderboard. I never had the wildest idea I would win today."

The no-bogey final round brought Pernice in at 18-under-par 270. Lehman finished a stroke back after a final-round 71. Lehman tied with Bob Tway, who also shot a 65 Sunday, and Ted Tryba, who made seven straight birdies on the back nine for a 29 and an 18-hole total of 66.

Pernice continued a tradition of first-time winners at the Buick, becoming the ninth player to gain his first victory here at the 7,105-yard Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club.

He choked back tears as he thanked his wife and two daughters for supporting him through years of obscurity playing in Asia, Europe and on the U.S. Nike Tour after losing his PGA Tour card at the end of the 1990 season. And he thanked his golf teacher, Robert Baker, who began working with Pernice two years ago.

"My swing really held up under the gun," Pernice said.

The 39-year-old native of Kansas City, Mo., now living in Lee's Summit, Mo., opened his fateful Sunday with a quiet 2-under 34 on the front nine, then parred the first three holes of the back nine. Then, on the 13th, Pernice reached the par 5 in two with a 7-iron and rolled in a 17-foot eagle putt.

He followed that with a birdie on the 14th, where he nearly drove the green, then chipped close, and he made birdie putts of 33 and 13 feet on 16 and 17 before finishing with a sand-save par on the last hole.

Lehman, who began the day with a 4-shot lead, played two of the easiest holes on the course in bogey-par on the back nine and missed birdie putts on the last two holes. Making either one would have gotten him into a playoff; both would have won the tournament outright.

It was Lehman's fourth second-place finish this year, and he remains winless in the United States going back to 1996.

"I felt like I've played some awfully good golf on Sunday and nothing to show for it," said Lehman, who is just now gaining full strength back in his right shoulder after he injured it last year playing with his children.

The biggest missed opportunity for Lehman came on the par-5 13th hole, which played like a par 4 for most players with the tees up and the wind following.

Lehman drove the ball behind a huge oak tree and hit his second shot into a greenside bunker. Then, in an inexplicable lapse, he thinned his sand wedge shot over the green and into a water hazard -- one of the few on the course. He dropped on the fringe and two-putted for bogey, losing three shots on that hole alone to Pernice.

"I don't know the last time I've done that," Lehman said of the miscue. "I haven't skulled a bunker shot in more years than I can remember."

Lehman was doubly disappointed because a win would have vaulted him into the top-10 in the race for a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. He has one more chance next week at the PGA Championship. If he performs well, but fails to gain the top 10, he still could be one of Ben Crenshaw's two captain's picks.

"I was proud of the way I played. It's not the end of the world," Lehman said. He said he played the round thinking that in the breezy conditions that prevailed Sunday, an under-par score would guarantee at least a playoff. "I really didn't think I'd have to break 70 to win."

That turns out to have been a key miscalculation at a tournament in which all four rounds have been marked by scores in the mid-60s.

Lehman was seemingly in control of the tournament up to the disastrous bunker shot. After that he likened himself to a fighter staggered by a body blow. On the 322-yard 14th hole, another clear birdie opportunity, Lehman almost drove the green, but his chip shot skipped 15 feet above the hole, and he missed that birdie putt. Then a hooked drive on the difficult 15th led to a bogey.

Lehman played 13-14-15 in 2-over; Pernice in 3-under, a five-shot swing that decided the tournament.