PGA gives Norman no lip - and no championship Putts just miss; Azinger wins title


TOLEDO, Ohio -- Perhaps it is simply not meant to be for Greg Norman at the Inverness Club. Or perhaps it was just Paul Azinger's time.

Either way, nothing but fate can describe the dramatic end of the 75th PGA Championship yesterday. After the two players tied over 72 holes, Norman watched two putts in sudden death roll hard against the left edge of the hole, only to spin out.

The first miss, from 20 feet, cost Norman an outright victory and the Australian's second consecutive major championship. The second, from five feet, which came after Azinger lipped out a 6-footer of his own, gave the 33-year-old Floridian his first major title.

Azinger shot a closing 3-under-par 68 over a drier, stingier Inverness Club that included birdies on four of the final seven holes, the last coming from six feet on the 71st hole. Like Norman, he narrowly missed a birdie putt on the first extra hole.

"It brought tears to my eyes," said Azinger, who had a similar reaction when he won the Memorial in June by holing a sand shot on the final hole. "It was a huge burden off of me. I felt I had something to prove. Today, I called myself: 'Are you capable of doing it? Are you good enough?' "

Azinger and Norman tied at 12-under 272, one stroke better than Nick Faldo and two ahead of Vijay Singh. Azinger gained his 11th career victory, his first ever in a playoff against two losses, and becamethe seventh winner in the past eight years to make the PGA his first major victory.

Norman, who began the day with a one-stroke edge over a tightly bunched leader board, closed with a battling 69. With his lip-outs, he lost a chance both to make history and, in a sense, rewrite it.

Had he won, it would have been the first time a player had won the British Open and the PGA Championship since Walter Hagen did it in 1924. As it was, Norman became, with his performance in the British Open and here, the first player ever to play eight consecutive rounds in the 60s in major championships.

Perhaps more significantly, a victory would have expiated the pain of his defeat in the same championship on the same course in 1986, when Bob Tway holed a sand shot for a birdie on the 72nd hole to defeat him.

"I think I feel more down because of the first putt I had in the playoff," said Norman. "I hit as perfect a putt as I could have hit to win. But I can handle adversity pretty well. I lost to a great player. I'm happy for him, but I wish it was me."

Playing in the last group, Norman fell three shots behind after he double-bogeyed the par-3 sixth hole when he left a sand shot in a bunker, and then bogeyed the seventh after a poor chip. But Norman came storming back with four birdies, and after hitting a wedge approach to 20 feet on the 357-yard 18th, he had a chance to win his third major championship outright.

After a long look, he hit a firm putt that, after breaking from left to right, just skimmed the left edge of the hole.

In the sudden-death playoff, which began on the same 18th, Norman hit another wedge approach to almost exactly the same spot as he had in regulation. This time, he hit his putt a shade more to the right.

A foot from the cup, it looked to be in, but instead it dipped along the left edge of the hole and spun out at a 90-degree angle. After Azinger followed with a narrow miss of a winning birdie from 18 feet, the players went to the second playoff hole, the 361-yard 10th.

There, Norman hit a pitching wedge from light rough some 25 feet past the hole. Azinger followed from the fairway with a wedge to six feet to the right.

Putting first, Norman misjudged the speed of his birdie putt and left it 4 1/2 feet short of the hole, in almost the identical place from where he had missed a birdie putt in regulation.

Azinger hit his putt to win a shade to hard and watched it lip out of the right edge of the cup.

After Azinger tapped in for par, Norman tried to finesse his sharp breaking right-to-left downhiller, but watched it break too much and spin out of the left side of the hole.

The reaction at the ending was more regret and relief than jubilation.

"I just feel so fortunate," said Azinger. "It was a very, very difficult day for me mentally. I was so nervous, when I was looking at putts, my heart was beating so hard, I felt my eyeballs flash. At the end of the round, I was gasping for air. I was just trying to get as many deep breaths as I could."

Of course, Azinger has also tasted disappointment and paid heavy dues in golf's biggest events. His first chance to win a major championship came at the 1987 British Open, where he led with two holes to play but bogeyed them to lose to Faldo. The next year at the PGA Championship at Oak Tree, Azinger was the third-round leader but finished second after Jeff Sluman's 65. At this year's U.S. Open, he tied for third.

But Azinger has matured and started to hit the clutch shots. At the Memorial in June, he holed a sand shot a la Tway on the final hole to defeat Payne Stewart. And two weeks ago at the New England Classic, he won by three strokes. After being referred to as best player who has never won a major championship, it was his time.

Although there were 18 players within four shots at the beginning of the day, the cream slowly came to the top on the back nine.

Bob Estes was in the lead alone after a birdie on the par-5 eighth hole, but when he drove into the bunker on the 10th and bogeyed, and followed with another on the 11th, he dropped to 9-under.

Singh hung with the leaders throughout and got into a tie for the lead with a birdie on the par-5 13th, but when he three-putted the 16th hole from 40 feet, failing on a 5-foot par putt, it dropped him to 10 under.

The player with the pedigree and the position seemed to be Faldo. Beginning the day two strokes and five groups behind Norman, the winner of five major championships turned in 2-under 35 and took the lead with a birdie at the par-5 13th. But he could produce no more birdies down the stretch, losing a golden opportunity when he missed a 5-footer for birdie on the 407-yard 16th.

A few moments later, there was a four-way tie at 11-under among Norman, Azinger, Singh and Faldo. A hole after that, it was a two-way battle that came down to the roll of the rim of the 4 1/4 -inch hole.


$ The winner . . . P. Azinger* 69-66-69-68-272 . . . and selected followers G. Norman 68-68-67-69-272 N. Faldo 68-68-69-68-273 V. Singh 68-63-73-70-274 T. Watson 69-65-70-72-276 B. Estes 69-66-69-73-277 H. Irwin 68-69-67-73-277 S. Simpson 64-70-71-72-277 J. Cook 72-66-68-71-277 L. Wadkins 65-68-71-74-278 L. Janzen 70-68-71-72-281 *-Beat Norman in playoff

Complete scores: 9C


Golfers who have lost more than one major tournament in a playoff:

GREG NORMAN 1984.. .. ..U.S. Open

.. ..Masters

1989.. .. ..British Open

1993.. .. ..PGA Championship

BEN HOGAN 1942.. .. ... ..Masters

.. .. .. Masters

1955.. .. .. .. U.S. Open

CRAIG WOOD 1933.. .. .. British Open

.. .. PGA Championship

1935.. .. .. Masters

1939.. .. .. U.S. Open

GENE LITTLER 1970.. .. .. Masters

.. .. PGA Championship

TOM WATSON 1978.. .. .. PGA Championship

.. .. Masters

Note: Arnold Palmer is the only golfer to lose one major three times in a playoff, the U.S. Open in 1962, 1963 and 1966.

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