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Price Sweeps Field Aside, Wins by Six : Golf: He shoots a final-round 67 and becomes first to win British Open and PGA consecutively since Hagen in 1924.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

There was no catching Nick Price on the final day of the PGA Championship, as golf’s newest superstar put the finishing touches on a four-day shooting spree that left most everyone gasping for superlatives.

“He was fantastic,” Corey Pavin said. “He made it very difficult to even have hope.”

With his peers in full pursuit, Price played what he called the best first nine holes in his life on his way to a 67 and near-record six-shot victory Sunday at Southern Hills in the year’s fourth and final major tournament.

“Everything fell into place,” the 37-year-old from Zimbabwe said.

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This certainly is not in dispute. It was Price’s third major title and second in succession. Not since Tom Watson won the U.S. and British Opens in 1982 has a golfer won consecutive major championships.

What’s more, Price is the first to win the British Open and PGA back-to-back since Walter Hagen in 1924.

After it was over and Price had accepted a check for $310,000, they started checking what Price had left in his wake.

His 269 total represented a six-shot margin over runner-up Pavin. It is the second biggest in PGA Championship history, one stroke less than the mark set in 1980 by Jack Nicklaus at Oak Hill.

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Price also became the first wire-to-wire PGA champion since Hal Sutton in 1983 at Riviera and officially overtook Greg Norman in the rankings as the No. 1 golfer in the world.

Since winning his first major championship at the 1992 PGA, Price has won 16 titles worldwide, earned $5.56 million and had 37 top-10 finishes in 59 events.

It’s as close to domination as will be found in golf these days.

“Since I won the PGA in 1992, I owe this championship an awful lot because it kick-started the second part of my career,” Price said.

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“And the way I won the British Open this year, it proved something to myself and just I have so much confidence in my ability right now and I think it showed in the way I played today.”

Price began the day with a three-stroke lead and no one got even one shot closer. In fact, in the group of the 11 players closest to Price after 54 holes, Pavin was the ony one to break par, and he shot a 69.

Price has put some distance between himself and everyone else.

“We’re groping to catch him right now,” Ben Crenshaw said.

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“God, he’s magnificent to watch,” he said. “He’s a man in full flight. He’s strong, he’s so strong. He has his strength to play big courses day in and day out and he’s done it forever.

“He’s confident in the way he’s playing. I’d say striking the ball, he’s been as good as anyone since, I’d say, since Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson.”

There wasn’t much anyone could do about Price on the last day, although Norman and Phil Mickelson gave it a try.

Norman, the player Price feared most Sunday, began with two birdies, but he eventually fell way back with a double bogey on No. 17, where he drove in the rough and hit a tree when he tried to chip out.

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Norman settled for a 70 and a four-day total of 277 in a tie for fourth with John Cook and Nick Faldo, who had a 66.

Mickelson came the closest to Price of anyone all day. His second birdie in the first four holes put him within three shots of Price, but a double bogey 6 at No. 16 cost him a chance for second place, which is all Pavin wanted.

By then, it was already very clear what everybody except Price was playing for.

“Fairly early, it was everybody playing for second place out there,” said Pavin, who had his best finish in a major.

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“He was so far ahead,” Pavin said. “It kind of reminded me almost in a way of the Nicklaus-Watson battle at the British Open (at Turnberry in 1977) except there was nobody battling Nick out there.

“I guess I won the B flight,” he said. “It was Nick and then everybody else.”

Pain managed only one birdie. At the time, Price had an eight-shot lead over him.

If there was any glimmer of hope for anybody else, Price ended it quickly. He birdied the 405-yard No. 3 when he hit a wedge shot to within two feet and came back with another birdie on No. 4 when his wedge shot landed six feet from the hole.

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As soon as Price rolled in a 22-foot putt on the par-three No. 8, he basically was out of sight. The first two birdies made all the difference, Price said.

“That just alleviated all the pressure and the nerves and whatever I may have had,” he said.

This is exactly the way he envisioned it, although leading all the way caused great expectations for Price, who felt uncomfortable from their weight.

“I was so tense,” he said. “I knew I was playing well coming into this week and (Saturday) was such a difficult day. I think I won the championship (Saturday), to be honest with you.

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“I didn’t play with any confidence or direction and it made me so determined. Had I not won this week, there would have been a big question mark beside my character, I suppose.”

He doesn’t have to worry about that any more. As he holds up the PGA Championship trophy, Price might be able to hear what the other golfers are saying about him. Right now, it’s Price and everybody else.


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