Originally created 02/21/00

Triplett bags tour victory on 266th try



LOS ANGELES -- After 11 years of grinding on the PGA Tour, after 266 tournaments wondering whether this would finally be his week to win, Kirk Triplett anticipated a wild wave of emotions and errant shots down the stretch in the Nissan Open.

That's just what he got Sunday.

His lead fluctuated between three shots and one shot in a matter of holes. His mind drifted from a victory speech to trying to get up-and-down from the lip of a bunker. His eyes couldn't avoid the hot pink pants worn by Jesper Parnevik.

"He looked like the Pepto-Bismol man," Triplett said. "That was great, because I was feeling a little queasy."

Triplett survived it all, including bursts of rain that fell from gloomy skies over Riviera Country Club, and got his first career tour victory with a 4-foot par putt on the final hole.

He thrust his fist high in the air and smiled wide under his bucket hat for a victory that was a long time coming.

"I'm so thrilled," he said. "I'm relieved in a sense. It's not as good of a career if you don't win."

Triplett took care of that on one of the most storied courses on tour. They won't rename Riviera "Triplett's Alley," but the 39-year-old player who once toiled on the "minniest of mini-tours" must have felt like Ben Hogan for at least a day.

With birdies on five of the first 10 holes to build a lead he refused to give away, Triplett closed with a 4-under 67 for a 272 total and earned $558,000 -- more than he earned in all but two previous seasons on tour.

Parnevik birdied two of the last three holes for a 68 that left him one stroke behind. Robin Freeman, who provided the stiffest challenge to Triplett until a three-putt bogey on the 17th, was another stroke back after a 68.

A week after the end of The Streak, Tiger Woods failed to record a top-10 finish in a stroke-play tournament for the first time since he tied for 18th in the MCI Classic on April 18, a stretch of 13 PGA Tour events.

Woods got within two shots of the lead at one point early in the round, but closed with a 1-over 72 and finished in a tie for 19th. It was only the fifth time in his last 36 rounds on the PGA Tour that he failed to break par, dating to the British Open at Carnoustie.

"It's just a bad round," Woods said. "I didn't really have it going this entire week. If I would have putted a little better, I would have been right there. But you can't have everything."

Triplett wasn't asking for everything, just a victory to show for his labor -- on mini-tours, in Australia, Asia, Canada and anywhere else he could make a buck.

Even his first win didn't come easily.

With a two-stroke lead going to the 18th, he hit his drive into the left rough on the famed, 451-yard closing hole and had to lay up 61 yards short of the pin. Parnevik applied even more heat by lacing his approach into 25 feet below the hole.

"I knew it was going to be rocky coming in, and it was," Triplett said.

Still, he answered the challenge with a lofted chip that settled 4 feet behind the hole, which must have looked like a mile after Parnevik rammed home his birdie putt.

"I don't know if the putt got longer," Triplett said, "but the hole sure got smaller."

Parnevik found himself cheering Triplett on, despite another voice in his head reminding him that a miss would result in a playoff.

"Anyone who knows him, he's just a nice guy," Parnevik said. "This must be a huge relief. I'm very happy for him."

The victory comes one week too late for Triplett, who was No. 66 in the world ranking and just missed getting in the Match Play Championship that starts Wednesday at La Costa.

But he should move up high enough to crack the top 50 and stay there for two weeks, which would bring him only his second Masters invitation.

David Sutherland, who took a one-stroke lead into the final round with nearly three dozen players jammed behind him, struggled from the start and finished with a 74. No one else managed to make a charge, battling a combination of rain, swirling winds and greens that gave everyone fits all week.

Woods and David Duval played in the same group for the first time in a final round and both were poised to make a run, starting the gloomy day only three strokes out of the lead.

It was hardly the performance expected out of the top two players in the world, particularly from Woods, whose streak of six straight tour victories ended last week in a runner-up finish to Phil Mickelson in the Buick Invitational.

Woods made a 12-foot birdie putt on the third hole and followed that with a 35-footer that banged into the back of the cup, only to lip out and send Woods to his knees in anguish. He was finally undone by three straight bogeys, starting on No. 7.

Duval had a 74.

"Both of us didn't play too well," Woods said. "But maybe it will be under different circumstance, preferable next week on Sunday."

Triplett won't be at La Costa, but a a far greater reward awaits the first weekend in April -- another trip to Augusta National.

GTE CLASSIC: Bruce Fleisher won his ninth Senior PGA Tour title in a little more than a year, closing with a 2-under-par 69 for a four-stroke victory in the GTE Classic in Lutz, Fla.

Fleisher withstood a challenge from Dana Quigley, who cut a five-stroke deficit at the start of the round to just one with a birdie on No. 14. But a bogey on No. 15 and a double bogey on No. 18 -- after his tee shot went in the water -- ended Quigley's bid.

Fleisher, who earned $195,000, had a 13-under 200 total on the TPC of Tampa Bay. He is averaging $81,135 in 36 senior starts.

Hale Irwin (69) and Jim Dent (70) tied for third at 6-under 207, and John Mahaffey (73) followed at 209. Tom Watson tied for eighth at 211, topping the three high-profile senior newcomers in the field. Tom Kite (214) tied for 20th and Lanny Wadkins (218) tied for 40th.

Jack Nicklaus closed with a 71 to tie for 14th at 213.