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Garcia gets hot early to win Booz Allen


BETHESDA - Sergio Garcia turned out to be his own best prophet.

After predicting earlier in the week that a low score on the front nine would propel someone to capture the $5 million Booz Allen Classic at Congressional Country Club, Garcia made his words stand by shooting a 6-under-par 30 on the front nine en route to a two-stroke victory yesterday.

The 25-year-old Spaniard, who won for the first time since capturing the Buick Classic last June 13, collected a $900,000 check for his effort thanks to four birdies and an eagle on the front nine leading to a 6-under 65 and a four-round total of 14-under 270.

The score eclipsed the course record for 72 holes of 13-under set by Craig Stadler in 1982 and matched the course record for 72 holes of 270 set by Stadler in 1981.

Davis Love III (66), Ben Crane (67) and defending champion Adam Scott (68) settled for a three-way tie for second place at 12-under 272.

On Wednesday, Garcia offered his analysis of the par-71, 7,232-yard Blue Course by saying, "I think that the place to score is going to be the front nine." Yesterday, he reminded the media of his claim.

"I said it in the beginning of the week: The scoring is going to be on the front nine," said Garcia, the world's sixth-ranked player who was making his first visit to the Booz Allen. "It's a nice front nine, but it's a bit easier. It's not as spectacular as the back nine. The back nine, it just doesn't let you go. Hole after hole, you have to drive it well. You have to hit a good shot into the green. I was fortunate to play very well today on the front nine."

Garcia, who opened the tournament with a 71 before forging scores of 68 and 66 in the second and third rounds, began the day at 8-under and two strokes behind third-round leader Tom Kite.

Garcia birdied the par-4 first and the par-4 fourth to take the outright lead. At the par-5, 544-yard sixth, he laced a 316-yard drive and nailed a four-iron from 224 yards to within 18 feet of the hole. Garcia completed the eagle opportunity by sinking a treacherous left-to-right, downhill putt to go 12-under for the tournament.

"I felt like I was hitting good shot after good shot," he said. "The eagle on six was really nice, and then I birdied seven and made a big par on eight and then birdied nine and birdied 10. It was just a special round."

Only two players made a serious charge at Garcia. World No. 3 Ernie Els, who won the U.S. Open at Congressional in 1997, made four consecutive birdies to close out the front nine at 13-under par and one shot behind Garcia. But Els bogeyed the par-4 11th, the par-3 12th and the par-4 13th to card a 72 and quickly fall out of contention.

Scott, who began the day tied for second at 9-under, followed up two birdies on the front nine with birdies at the par-4 11th, and par-5 15th to get to 13-under. Garcia, who had bogeyed the 15th, rebounded with a birdie at the par-4 16th.

Any hope Scott had of chasing Garcia ended, however, at the par-4 17th, where he pushed his drive into the first cut of rough and wedged his second shot from 133 yards that missed everything except water to the left of the green.

"I gave it a good show, but 17 was certainly not needed," said Scott, who playfully splashed Garcia with some water before congratulating him after the round. "It's a tough hole, and I got a flier out of the rough and a big hop in the water. Everything went down the toilet from there."

NOTES: Crane incurred the wrath of playing partner Rory Sabbatini when Crane's slow play forced officials to put the pair on the clock. Although the duo was taken off the clock by the time they got to the 17th hole, Sabbatini putted out before Crane even reached the green and walked to the 18th tee before Crane putted out, which drew boos from fans. Crane blamed himself for the mishap. "I feel bad," he said. "I can't change the situation, but I am the one who caused the problem." ... Sabbatini carded a 70 in his final round, ending his streak of consecutive rounds in the 60s at the Booz Allen at 11. ... At 55, Kite, who finished tied for 13th at 7-under, missed out on his bid to become the oldest player to win a PGA Tour event. Sam Snead won the Greater Greensboro Open in 1965 at the age of 52.

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