Price just can't be beat at PGA


TULSA, Okla. -- The history of major championships played at Southern Hills Country Club speaks of toughness more than talent, with those who have won here being more blue-collar than blue-blood.

A list that included Tommy Bolt and Dave Stockton, Hubert Green and Raymond Floyd, was joined yesterday by Nick Price. The 37-year-old from Zimbabwe, once considered no more than a solid journeyman, continued his amazing two-year stretch of domination.

Price not only won the 76th PGA Championship, but also obliterated it: the course, the field and the record books. A brilliant final round of 3-under-par 67 gave Price a four-round total of 11-under 269 and a six-stroke victory over Corey Pavin.

As Pavin would say later, "He made it very difficult to even have hope out there."

It provided Price with the second PGA title and third major championship of his 17-year career, coming less than a month after his victory at Turnberry in the British Open. It made Price the first player since Tom Watson in 1982 to win back-to-back Grand Slam events.

As significantly, it also meant the first-ever sweep of majors by foreign-born players since the Masters began in 1934. And, quite fittingly, it pushed Price ahead of his good friend, Greg Norman, in the Sony world rankings. Price is now officially No. 1 in the world.

"Every dog has his day," said Price, whose victory was his fifth this year -- the most by a PGA Tour player since Watson won six in 1980 -- and the 16th in a stretch that started with the 1992 PGA Championship at Bellerive. "It depends on how long you're going to stay there."

There was little doubt that Price would stay on top of the leader board here, a place he had been since sharing the first-round lead Thursday with Scotland's Colin Montgomerie. He led by five strokes after Friday's round and came into yesterday three ahead of Jay Haas.

"Every win is so difficult, but I put a lot of pressure on myself this week," said Price. "To win wire-to-wire in any tournament, especially a major championship, you've got to sleep on the lead every night. But I slept very well this week. If I had not won, there would have been a big question about my character. If I hadn't won, I would've been very depressed."

The thought of anyone else winning -- or even coming close -- passed quickly. After Norman and American left-handed phenom Phil Mickelson made some noise with a couple of early birdies, Price silenced any talk of a comeback with back-to-back birdies on the third and fourth holes. The three-shot lead was doubled by the time Price had made the turn at 11-under for the tournament, 3-under for the day.

"What was frustrating was after making two birdies, I didn't gain any ground," said Mickelson, who finished third at 4-under 276 after an even-par 70. "He played awesome."

Said Norman, who got no further than 5-under before slipping back to 3-under 277 after an even-par 70, "It seemed like every time somebody put some heat on him, he just came back and birdied on top of us. There was nothing we could do about it."

Even Price admitted that the front nine "was the best nine holes of my entire life."

As a result, the last nine holes were a mere formality, especially after Price birdied the par-4 10th hole to give himself a seven-shot lead. The rest of the day was spent chasing the record books. His four-round total broke the previous tournament record of 271, set by Bobby Nichols in 1964. It was the lowest winning score ever in a U.S. major.

About the only PGA Championship record Price missed yesterday was the one Jack Nicklaus set at Oak Hill in 1980. A three-putt bogey on the final hole cost Price a share of the mark for largest victory margin.

It wasn't only a victory worth $310,000, pushing Price's PGA Tour earnings over $1 million for the third straight year and making him a near-lock for his second straight Player of the Year title. It was a coronation for a player who is as well-liked as he is respected by his peers.

"He deserves every bit he gets," said Norman, who still maintains a slim lead over Price on this year's PGA Tour money list. "It was going to be Nick's tournament. It's been Nick's year. That is the way the golfing gods work out. Even if we shot 64, it wouldn't have been good enough."

Said Pavin, after his first runner-up finish in a major championship, "He didn't allow anyone to come close. It was just playing for second place. It's tough when someone's that far ahead. I felt like I won the B flight. It was Nick and everyone else."

It was the most dominating performance in a year dominated by foreign-born players. But unlike the victory by Spain's Jose Maria Olazabal at the Masters, it was not a player realizing his potential. Unlike the playoff win by South Africa's Ernie Els at the U.S. Open, it was not a case of recognizing the game's next star.

Price, who went nearly eight years between his first victory at the 1983 World Series and his second at the Byron Nelson, has been among the game's top players for the past three years. The last month has only moved him near the top. Yesterday's performance put him over the top.

"He is," said Pavin, "the best player in the world. No question."

Nobody is questioning it anymore.

$ Not even Nick Price.



The winner . . . Nick Price 67-65-70-67--269 . . . and selected followers Corey Pavin 70-67-69-69--275 Phil Mickelson 68-71-67-70--276 Nick Faldo 73-67-71-66--277 Greg Norman 71-69-67-70--277 Tom Kite 72-68-69-70--279 Tom Watson 69-72-67-71--279 Ben Crenshaw 70-67-70-72--279 Ian Woosnam 68-72-73-66--279 Larry Mize 72-72-67-70--281 Craig Stadler 70-70-74-68--282 Fuzzy Zoeller 69-71-72-70--282 Curtis Strange 73-71-68-70--282 Ernie Els 68-71-69-75--283 *

Complete scores: 4C

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