Price gets his putts to drop, wins PGA title by 3 strokes

August 17, 1992|By Joe Juliano | Joe Juliano,Philadelphia Inquirer

ST. LOUIS -- After suffering through a bunch of stomach-churning close calls in golf's major championships over the past 10 years, Nick Price found the way to win the 74th PGA Championship yesterday.

He did what it takes to win a major -- he hit fairways, hit greens and kept mistakes to a bare minimum -- and shot a final-round 1-under-par 70 on the rugged 7,148-yard course at Bellerive Country Club.

Price, 35, did miss four fairways and five greens, but he carded only one bogey and needed only 29 putts -- several of which were crucial -- on his way to a 72-hole score of 6-under 278 and a three-shot victory. He became the 10th player in the history of the tournament to break par in all four rounds.

The victory had an odd twist. Price had withdrawn from the 1991 PGA Championship because of the impending birth of his son. That opened a spot for ninth alternate John Daly, who captured the title.

"The way I've played the majors in the last five years, I've put a lot of emphasis on them," Price said. "A special kind of golf is required to win a major. It requires a lot of patience, and that wasn't my strong point for a long time."

Price's near-misses in majors had been excruciating. In 1982, he led the British Open by three shots with six holes to play but lost by a shot to Tom Watson. In the 1988 British Open, he took a two-stroke lead into the final round but ended up second again because Seve Ballesteros closed with a 65.

He also had come close several times in U.S. majors. He finished fifth in the 1985 PGA. He was third entering the final round of the 1991 U.S. Open before fading. He tied for sixth in this year's Masters and for fourth in this year's U.S. Open, in which a third-round 77 hurt him.

"I said to someone a few weeks ago, 'I'm so close, I can almost taste it,' " Price said. "I kept my game together in the Masters and the U.S. Open. The British Open [where he tied for 51st this year] was a big disappointment. I didn't handle adversity very well. I put too much pressure on myself and destroyed my chances."

There didn't seem to be much question that the precise Price had the game needed at Bellerive, a course with high, thick rough and huge greens. And it also helped that, in his previous five U.S. appearances, he had finished in the top 10 three times and didn't have a placing lower than 18th.

"I knew I had to reach the next step soon," Price said, referring to winning a major. "There have been guys who played well their whole career and never won a major championship. The last two or three weeks, all I thought about was the PGA. But when I got here, I knew I had to pace myself. I didn't want to push too much and get burned out.

"I guess I found the right recipe."

On a somewhat overcast but very comfortable day at Bellerive, Price remained steady while the other contenders either dropped away or lacked finishing kicks.

Gene Sauers, who led the tournament after each of the first three days, shot a watery double bogey at the par-3 sixth hole and never recovered en route to a 75 that put him in a four-way tie for second at 281.

Jeff Maggert, the first-time PGA contestant who was tied for second with Price entering the round, held a two-shot lead at 7-under with nine holes to play but stumbled to a 5-over 40 on the back side. His 74 was good enough only for sixth at 282.

John Cook and Jim Gallagher Jr. couldn't put any heat on Price down the stretch, each carding a par-71 to join the runner-up group. Nick Faldo made a charge, but his 67 could give him only a share of second.

Price showed early that he would be in it until the end. He parred the first 10 holes, one-putting three of them for good saves. At the par-4 11th, he broke through for his first birdie, sinking a 10-foot putt. But he bogeyed No. 15 after hitting his tee shot into the rough.

The bogey dropped Price into a tie for first with Maggert at under, but he came up with a birdie at the 222-yard 16th after putting a 3-iron 25 feet from the hole. He sank the putt after Cook, his playing partner, chipped in from slightly farther out.

Then, at the par-5 17th, Price was bunkered in 2, blasted out poorly to 30 feet and raced his first putt 12 feet by the hole. But he made the comeback putt for a vital par.

"The putt on 17 was more important," he said. "The one on 16 was like a bonus. But on 17, to make a bogey after hitting two good shots would have left me a little deflated. But it was a straight putt dead in the jar. That gave me room on 18."

By that time, Maggert was in full retreat. He missed five straight greens -- posting bogeys on three of those holes -- before depositing his second shot at 17 into the water.

Cook, the runner-up in the British Open, got within two strokes of Price with his 16th-hole chip-in, but he couldn't get any closer. He parred the 17th and bogeyed No. 18, where Price made a par.

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