In Dramatic Fashion, Purtzer Ends Drought

Times Staff Writer

For Tom Purtzer, the doubts began long ago.

The voices in his head grew louder each time a tournament passed and he walked away without a victory. A player once thought to have the best swing on the PGA Tour, Purtzer won five times between 1977 and '91, but hadn't won on any level since. He wondered if he ever would again.

A spectacular putt on the 18th hole Sunday in the final round of the SBC Classic at Valencia Country Club quelled his fears. Purtzer, trailing playing partner Gil Morgan by two strokes going to the par-five final hole, made a 58-foot putt for eagle, then watched as Morgan three-putted for bogey.

Purtzer shot a four-under-par 68 Sunday and finished at nine-under in a tournament shortened to 36 holes because of rain. He finished a stroke ahead of Morgan and won $225,000 for his first Champions Tour victory.

"Walking off of [the 17th] green I felt like I let it slip away again and maybe I'm never gonna win a tournament," Purtzer said. "But then by the time I got over to the tee, I said, 'Well, let's see if I can make an eagle on this hole.' "

Purtzer hit a booming drive off the 18th tee that landed in the fairway. He had struggled on second shots into par-fives earlier in the round, but this time hit a clean, laser-like three-wood from 257 yards out. The ball checked up in the fringe, just short of the green.

His sweeping, left-to-right uphill putt got on line and tracked to the hole. When it went in, Purtzer lifted his putter and both arms high above his head as he let out an exuberant yell.

"I hit it on the line I wanted, but it broke so much that it's just in the hands of the golf gods," Purtzer said. "It's one of those deals that you watch it disappear and then you go, 'That didn't just happen.' You can't believe it."

Morgan, a 21-time Champions Tour winner who entered the final round with a one-shot lead over John Schroeder and two over Purtzer, seemed in control after Schroeder made bogeys on 12 and 13 to fall out of contention and Purtzer bogeyed the 17th to fall two back.

But his three-wood tee shot found the right rough on No. 18, then he hit another three-wood into the left rough. His nine-iron approach landed 30 feet above the hole on a steep, fast green. His first putt zipped seven feet past the hole and his par effort slid past the right edge.

"That first putt was a lot faster than I anticipated," said Morgan, who closed with a 71 and won $132,000 for second place. "The last putt I actually misread a little bit." He might have been in shock after watching playing partner Purtzer tie for the lead with his eagle putt.

"I didn't have a very good feeling about it, I don't know why," Morgan said. "It was just one of those sensations that you have."

For Purtzer, in his second year on the Champions Tour, it could be the career boost he has been looking for. For the last 10 years of his PGA Tour career, he battled a spinal condition in which a disk moves forward and pinches a nerve. He had trouble walking a full 18 holes.

Champions Tour rules allow players to use carts, and Purtzer has taken advantage. Last year, he finished in the top 10 eight times, including a third place at Valencia when he missed getting into a playoff by one shot. This year, he finished sixth, fourth and 15th before winning Sunday.

"Obviously, [winning] gives you an amount of confidence," Purtzer said. "What I do with it is up to me."

Purtzer and Morgan passed the lead back and forth throughout the day. Purtzer made four consecutive birdies starting with No. 4 to take a one-shot lead and Morgan took the lead back with a birdie on No. 9.

Purtzer went up again with a birdie on No. 11, only to have Morgan take the lead back with a birdie on the 15th. Purtzer missed a 15-foot par putt on the 17th, giving Morgan a two-stroke lead and setting up the dramatic finish.

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