PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Right on cue for the Honda Classic's final round Sunday, they turned on the south Florida wind machine.The first significant gusts of the tournament week sent third-round leader Todd Hamilton sprawling for 16 holes, but the 38-year-old PGA Tour rookie righted himself in time to win his first tour title.
He shot 2-over-par 74, finishing in dramatic fashion, to edge Davis Love III by a shot.
The victory also set up Hamilton for a possible 11th-hour Masters Tournament invitation.
Hamilton will be added to the Masters field if he's in the top 10 on the PGA Tour money list after the Players Championship on March 28 or is in the top 50 in the world ranking.
His $900,000 payday Sunday moved Hamilton into ninth place on the money list. As for the ranking, he was 96th entering the Honda Classic, and is expected to move into the top 50 when this week's ranking is released today.
"I could never have pictured that," Hamilton said of playing in the Masters this year. "That would be very special."
Hamilton, who toiled for a dozen years on the Asian and Japanese tours and made it through the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament in December after seven failed attempts, made his lone birdies of the day on the final two holes .
"There are probably a lot of other golfers who deserve this talent-wise, but I guarantee you, no one will appreciate it more than I do," Hamilton said. "Tonight, I'm going to get an early start on St. Patrick's Day."
Hamilton rolled in a 10-footer for birdie on No. 17 and a 4-footer on No. 18 to deny Love.
"I don't know how I did it, but I found a couple of birdies at the end," Hamilton said. "I struggled today for a long time. Lo and behold, I found a couple birdies at the end. I can't explain what happened on the last two holes."
Love, who started the day six shots behind Hamilton, closed with 69 and finished as the tournament's runner-up for the second straight year. He was also the runner-up in his last start, the Match Play Championship, two weeks ago.
"He deserved to win," Love said of Hamilton. "He finished like a true champion. He birdied the last two holes when he knew he had to do it."Hamilton finished at 12-under 276 at the difficult Country Club of Mirasol's Sunrise Course.
Hamilton entered the final round with a four-shot lead, which started to evaporate after he shot 3-over 39 on the front nine.
Love caught Hamilton when Hamilton bogeyed the 13th hole for his fourth and final bogey of the day. Love, who was playing No. 16 at the time, went on to par that hole and birdie the par-5 17th to take the outright lead. On the par-4 18th hole, Love had to scramble to make par, sinking a 5-footer.
Hamilton, playing three groups behind Love, parred Nos. 14, 15 and 16, then struck for the closing birdies to earn the win and a two-year exemption on the tour.
Hamilton, a former Oklahoma State golfer who lives in McKinney, Texas, won four times in Japan in 2003 and finished third on that tour's money list, which earned him a exemption into the final stage of the PGA Qualifying Tournament. He tied for 16th there to earn his tour card for 2004.
"It's a great story - that's why I didn't feel bad when he birdied the last two holes," Love said. "I know he's worked long and hard for it. You've got to give him a lot of credit. It's nice to see a guy have success like that after that much effort."
Reach David Westin at (706) 724-0851 .