Elkington puts final touch on TPC win Wire-to-wire winner finishes 7 shots ahead

March 31, 1997|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Steve Elkington has a pretty solid track record on Sundays, but he tossed and turned the night before he took a two-shot lead into the final round of The Players Championship.

"I didn't sleep well last night," Elkington said. "I was very anxious to start the round. I was up at 6: 30 this morning. I sat in the [hotel] room and putted. I putted for three hours, watched a Sylvester Stallone movie. The one where he's in the water, under the ground."

The film is "Daylight," and it was lights out for the rest of a historic field at the TPC at Sawgrass. Yesterday the Australian who doesn't fold took an Easter Sunday stroll, and when it was done, Elkington had collected a record seven-stroke margin of victory, his second win at The Players and $630,000.

"I'm sitting here trying to explain what it means to win this tournament by seven strokes," Elkington said. "I basically blew away the best field we've ever had. I didn't know if I was capable, is what I'm trying to say."

Lured by a $3.5 million purse, this was the first tournament to attract the top 50 players since the world rankings were instituted in 1986. Elkington placed his name atop the leader board with a 66 Thursday afternoon and never left as he became the first wire-to-wire winner here since Greg Norman in 1994.

Elkington finished at 16-under with a 3-under 69. That matched his high round of the tournament, but it didn't matter, because no one shot better yesterday. There were no big charges, as Scott Hoch stayed in second with a 2-over 74 that left him at 9-under, one stroke better than Loren Roberts, who matched Elkington's 69.

"I guess a group is allowed so many putts, and the way Steve kept filling it up, that eliminated my chances," said Hoch, who got in the final pairing with a 65 Saturday. "I saw a fine player, if not a great player out there today. He hit a lot of quality shots, and the big thing is he made all his putts."

Elkington wobbled a bit at the start, as he pushed his first tee shot into the right rough. He steadied himself with a five-foot putt for par, and his putter remained hot, as he reached just 10 greens in regulation. After Hoch double-bogeyed No. 4, the cushion was four strokes, and it never got smaller than three.

The suspense was long gone by the time Elkington got to No. 18, where he was 3-over in the first three rounds. He pushed his approach right, but that minor error set the stage for his final salvo. A chip-in from 30 feet with a sand wedge kept him in the 60s for all four rounds.

Elkington, 34, joined Jack Nicklaus and Fred Couples as the only multiple winners at The Players. The 1991 tournament was the second of his eight victories on the PGA Tour.

The big payday vaulted Elkington from ninth to first on the money list. He's earned $984,000 in just four tour events this year, $954,000 in March alone. The month ended the way it began for Elkington, who earlier took the Doral-Ryder Open down the coast in Miami.

He's the first in eight years to win twice on the Florida swing. He'll play in New Orleans this week. In 10 days, he'll tee it up in the Masters, and if you're searching for a candidate to continue the foreigners' dominance at Augusta National, look no further than Elkington.

Foreign-born players have won the Masters in seven of the past nine years. The focus will be on Norman and Nick Faldo, whose poignant duel last year was one of golf's greatest stories in the 1990s. The less-heralded Elkington, meanwhile, has just the right recipe cooking for Augusta National.

"I feel good right now about the way I'm driving the ball and I feel good about the way I'm putting," said Elkington, who put in perspective what he called the best performance he's ever had on the tour. "The way I dominated this field is what I'm taking from here."

Pub Date: 3/31/97

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