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Stadler Wins One at Home : Golf: San Diego native shoots 66 and holds off Lowery for his first victory at Torrey Pines as a pro.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Craig Stadler, playing Indiana Jones-style golf, did everything but tiptoe through rattlesnakes and dodge falling boulders en route to a final-round 66 and a victory in the Buick Invitational Sunday at Torrey Pines.

It was Stadler’s first victory in his hometown, excluding the 1971 Junior World Championship.

“I’ve played here for so long,” he said, “that it’s so nice, so special, to win here.”

To win, he had to overcome the steady play of third-round leader Steve Lowery, an early challenge from Hal Sutton and a stretch run by Phil Mickelson. All four either led or shared the lead at some point during the final round, but Stadler took the lead for good with a birdie on the 15th and added another on the 17th to get to 20 under.

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“I figured this morning I needed to get to 19 under,” Mickelson said. “It looks like that might not be good enough.”

Stadler and Lowery, playing four groups behind him, were on the 15th hole when Mickelson birdied the 18th to finish an eight-under round of 64 and get to minus-18. The three were tied for the lead as long as it took Stadler to get to the green and sink a 20-foot birdie putt.

Lowery, who shot a 68, broke the tie for second with Mickelson when he birdied the 18th.

Sutton, who birdied four of the first five holes to take a brief lead at 17 under, lost his momentum and finished fourth at 16 under.

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With challengers lurking, it seemed most of the day a matter of whether Stadler would win it or lose it. The birdies on 15 and 17 broke the tie and gave him the lead and the victory, but his three most important holes might have been what he called the “point” holes: 11, 12 and 13.

“Twelve especially,” said Stadler, who had taken the lead with an eagle on the ninth hole from 20 feet. “I always have problems with that hole.”

He parred all three Sunday. What was critical was how he parred them.

He was short on No. 11, a difficult par-three into the wind, and he needed a four-foot putt to salvage his par.

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No. 12 is a nightmarish 468-yard par-four, uphill and into the wind. Stadler needed to make a six-foot putt after missing the green to the right.

His second shot on No. 13, normally an easy par-five, was yanked left into the rough down a hill.

“My worst shot in a decade,” Stadler said.

He reached the green and two-putted for another adventurous par, keeping him in the lead at 19 under.

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It was starting to look like a matter of whether he could survive himself.

Then came No. 14.

“I’ve learned to hate that hole,” Stadler mused. “For good reason.”

In the 1987 tournament, played during wet weather, Stadler hit a ball under a tree along the right side of the fairway. He took a towel out of his bag and knelt on it as he punched the ball out onto the fairway. He was later disqualified for an equipment violation.

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“I almost got it under that same tree today,” he said.

His tee shot was to the right of the tree, in the rough. His approach flew wide left and he ended up with a bogey to slip back to 18 under. Mickelson, at about that time, was making his putt on the 18th to create a three-way tie.

“I kicked myself in the butt after No. 14,” Stadler said, “and hit a nice drive on 15.”

After the birdie on the 15th put him on top, he stayed out of trouble until the 18th. His tee shot found a fairway trap to the right, but he had a two-shot lead by then. It did not even make any difference when he missed a two-foot birdie putt. The tournament was his.

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That last little putt would have been consequential if Lowery had been able to make a 35-foot eagle putt from the back of the 18th green. It was a prayer of a putt and it never really had a chance, but he had stayed alive until the end under the pressure of leading after the third round.

“He just wouldn’t go away,” Stadler said.

“I was pleased with the way I played,” said Lowery, who has never won on the PGA Tour. “I didn’t make a bogey all day and he had to play a real good round to beat me.”


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