AVONDALE, Pa. -- It took Jay Sigel four tries to finally get a winning putt into the 18th hole, but when a seven-footer found the bottom of the cup on the third playoff hole, he bent over and breathed a sigh of relief.
The 13th annual Bell Atlantic Classic came down to a sudden-death playoff between Sigel (69) and Jose Maria Canizares (65) after they had tied at 11-under-par 205 for 54 holes at Hartefeld National Golf Course.
The playoff was on the 18th hole, an uphill, slightly dogleg test of 409 yards. It has a two-tiered green and the pin was on the top shelf, back left and guarded by a bunker.
In succession, Sigel left an 18-foot birdie putt from the fringe just short on his 54th hole; pulled a birdie putt from seven feet; slid an eight-foot par putt by on the left side; then coaxed home a seven-footer that crept in the left side.
Later, he was asked his feeling at the time -- one of elation or relief? "Yes," was the answer.
During the playoff, Sigel dodged one bullet when he pushed a drive into the right trees on the second go-round. Before he hit his second shot, Canizares caught a flier from the rough and his 167-yard 6-iron shot wound up in the middle of a bunker back of the green.
"I knew the best he was going to make was 5, if not 6, so I wanted to take 6 out of my play," Sigel said. An overhanging limb interfered with his going for the green; he punched out, and put his third in good position.
"My first instinct was to go for the green. I wanted to play a great shot. Then my intelligence got the best of me," and he played it safe.
Canizares, a Spaniard in his second tour season, hit a superb bunker shot that carried just past a pot bunker in front of him, bounced softly onto the green and along the fringe before turning down and stopping 12 feet above and left of the hole. His par effort just bore off, stopping on the right lip.
His approach the last time stopped down on the front part of the green. From 50 feet, he putted up to the top level, but the ball turned off and came up short.
During the regulation round, Sigel dipped 4-under par on the front nine, turned 12-under par and birdied 10.
He struggled down the stretch, however, producing his second tall-grass whiff of the tournament on his way to a double-bogey 6 at the 15th that dropped him into a tie with Canizares, who had birdied the 16th two groups ahead.
Sigel recovered with a two-putt birdie at the par-5 16th to reclaim the lead, only to give it back at the 17th. "I hit an 8-iron I thought was going in the hole, but it came up four feet short [bracket the roar of the gallery was clearly audible all the way at the back of the 18th green] and I missed it."
NOTES: Sigel, who confirmed his entry into the State Farm Classic at Hobbit's Glen in July, won for the first time this year and fifth in a five-year pro career. Ed Dougherty, who turned 50 last November and was here on a sponsor's exemption, returned the favor with a closing 64208 to tie for third. Of those with Middle Atlantic ties, Dick Hendrickson, a onetime assistant pro in the Baltimore area, battled a pinched nerve in his back to shoot 74217 and tie for 32rd. .Of the former MAPGA pros, Bruce Lehnhard had 74219, and tied for 42rd, and Fred Gibson had 70220 to tie for 47th.
Pub Date: 5/25/98