Mayfair catches Woods in Nissan Playoff victory comes after tying birdie on 18

March 02, 1998|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

VALENCIA, Calif. -- Proving once that golf is indeed a quirky game, a slightly roundish, middle-aged (by golf standards) son of a car dealer beat the best player in the world (by popular opinion) in a sudden-death playoff in the Nissan Open.

Go figure. Billy Mayfair can't hit the ball as far as Tiger Woods, he can't wear as many swooshes and he can't pump his fist after willing putts into the hole nearly as well as Woods.

But out there at Valencia Country Club, where the greens look like there are a few Volkswagens buried under the grass, all Mayfair did yesterday was shoot a 4-under-par 67, birdie the last hole of regulation to tie Woods, then beat him with another birdie on the first playoff hole.

It wasn't merely his first victory in nearly three years, it also pumped $378,000 into the Mayfair family coffers, which is plenty important when you have twin 110-pound Rottweiler sisters to feed.

Mayfair seemed relieved.

"I guess the big thing is I know I can win again," he said. "You go for a while without winning and you start thinking, 'Can I ever win again?' And then to beat Tiger Woods. Wow."

It was a compelling end to a historic week of golf in the Santa Clarita Valley, which hasn't seen so much excitement since the days when Gene Autry shot the bad guys with his guitar at Melody Ranch.

Stephen Ames, the Trinidad-born Canadian who had visa problems getting here, may have problems with the metal detector going home because of the $142,800 he earned for finishing third.

Ames closed with a 68 and wound up three shots out of a playoff. John Daly, who had a 66, tied for fourth place with Payne Stewart, who shot 70.

It was Daly's best finish since he won the 1995 British Open.

But the star of the show may have been the guy who finished second. All right, so Woods didn't win, but he did manage to scare the heck out of Mayfair.

He's regarded as the man to beat in every tournament, and Woods isn't all that unhappy to accept such a burden even if it doesn't always work out.

"If the guys are thinking that way, that's good for me," he said. "I can't do it every time, though. Unfortunately. I wish I could."

Woods birdied three of the last four holes to get into the playoff with a final-round 66 and stuck his swoosh right in Mayfair's face.

Woods played the last 36 holes in 11-under (65-66) and even held a one-shot lead until Mayfair caught him with a birdie on the last hole.

Woods already had birdied the hole, even after driving into the rough and then finding the right greenside bunker before he rolled in a 15-foot putt. That put Woods at 12 under, a good place to be.

"Let's put it this way," Woods said. "At worst-case scenario, I knew I'd be in a playoff."

He was right. Mayfair, who heard the cheers, figured that Woods had gone ahead.

So Mayfair, who failed to birdie No. 18 the first three rounds, did it when it mattered. He hit his second shot safely into the front bunker, then came out to within four feet and calmly sank the putt to catch Woods.

"I knew he was going to be playing well," Mayfair said. "I knew Tiger would be there at the end of the day. I was just hoping that I would be there too."

Having made certain, Mayfair rode out to the 18th tee again to begin the playoff. Woods, who was in the cart ahead of Mayfair, turned back to look. It was the last time Mayfair would be behind.

Woods missed the green to the right in the playoff. He chipped to 15 feet above the hole, but his birdie putt slid past to the left.

"I hit it right where I wanted to," Woods said. "I just didn't think it would flatten out like it did. It went dead straight. Hard to believe."

All that was left was for Mayfair to knock in a 5-footer straight uphill, which was what he left himself after laying up to 85 yards on his second shot. He reacted predictably once the ball stopped rattling around in the bottom of the hole.

"Awesome," he said.

Most important, at 31, Mayfair knows how it feels to win again. He's happy, his wife, Tammy, is happy and so his two dogs, named Dallas and Tulsa after his marriage in Dallas and his Tour Championship victory in Tulsa, Okla., well, their lives may be changed, too. Mayfair said he may have to get a new dog. The name is already chosen.

"Valencia," he said.

Pub Date: 3/02/98

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