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Elkington Steals the Show With PGA Win

By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 14, 1995

PACIFIC PALISADES, CALIF., AUG. 13 -- Starting from six shots off the lead at the start of play today, Steve Elkington overtook a fading Ernie Els, then edged fast-finishing Colin Montgomerie in sudden death to settle the 77th PGA Championship at Riviera Country Club.

Elkington, a 32-year-old Australian who takes medicine to control allergies to grass, of all things, made a 25-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole at Riviera's famous uphill 451-yard 18th hole to win the first major championship of his career and become the only non-American player to win a major this season, even if he does play regularly on the PGA Tour and make his home in Houston, where he also played college golf.

That one last birdie -- his eighth of the day -- came from about the same length and position on the green where Montgomerie had forced the playoff minutes before with a stunning 20-foot birdie putt. His ball bounced several times over spike marks on its way to the cup for his third straight birdie. But when Montgomerie's 22-footer at the playoff hole just slid by on the right side, the Scotsman had to settle for second.

"I played the round of my life today," said Elkington, who took control of the tournament with seven birdies in his first 12 holes and held on with six straight pars. "I didn't know what to expect with Ernie seeming so dominant the first three rounds. But I was close at the British Open {sixth} and the Masters {fifth} and I felt my game was good. I've seen so many times in major championships if you post a good round, it may work. When my wife asked me what I thought I needed, I said 65."

Elkington, who shot 64, and Montgomerie, who did have a 65, both continued to ruin Riviera's reputation as a trying test of golf on an afternoon of bright sun and cool breezes. Each man posted a 72-hole total of 267, a 17-under-par total that broke the previous PGA Championship record of 15-under 273, set by Lee Trevino at Shoal Creek in 1984. The 267 also tied the record for a major, set by Greg Norman at the '93 British Open at Royal St. Georges. But that was at 13 under par.

The champion's last 18 holes also matched Jack Nicklaus's previous record final-round score of the 1964 PGA at Columbus Country Club. But this round provided far more satisfaction -- not to mention a check for $360,000 -- for Elkington, if only because Nicklaus finished second to Bobby Nichols that afternoon.

For Els, the 25-year-old South African and '94 U.S. Open champion, it was a day of disappointment. He had started play with a three-stroke lead over his closest pursuers -- Jeff Maggert and Mark O'Meara -- and after two holes had stretched it to four shots. But all the good fortune that had gone his way on his first three record-breaking rounds deserted him, especially at the 16th hole, when his 12-foot birdie putt to get to 17 under hit the left edge of the cup, did a 360-degree turn around the hole and somehow stayed out.

When he bogeyed the 576-yard 17th -- a hole he had birdied the first three days -- his chances of recording his second major championship by the age of 25 ended when his six-foot par putt took a sharp left turn a millisecond before it reached the hole and stayed out.

"The putt on 16 just took everything out of me and I didn't hit too many fairways," Els said. "I read it perfect. I wasn't going to leave it short. I couldn't believe it when it came out. I mean it went in the left center. I thought it was in."

Of the putt on 17, he added: "I needed speed. I hit it too soft. . . . I knew I had to play a good round, but I wasn't quite there today. I tried very hard on the back nine, gave it my best shot. I didn't play a very great round of golf today."

Montgomerie did, despite a bogey on the 421-yard 13th -- after a poor chip from the kikuyu rough -- one he will recall for a long time. It was the only blemish on his card that included seven birdies, the last three made knowing that Elkington was already at 17 under.

"Having to birdie the last three holes in a major championship and succeeding is a positive note," Montgomerie said. "I'm taking that away positively as I did from other playoffs I've managed to lose in. . . . For people who don't know, I've been in four playoffs. . . . I'm 0 for 4, and this is 0 for 5, including a U.S. Open {at Oakmont last year} and a couple of big tournaments at home {in Europe}."

Maggert and O'Meara both faltered early, each with bogeys on two of their first four holes. But Maggert regained his poise and shot 69 -- 269, good for a tie with Els for third place and enough points to make the U.S. Ryder Cup team. O'Meara never recovered, shooting 73 and tying for sixth with Bob Estes at 273.

Brad Faxon also played his way on to the American team, finishing with a flourish rarely seen in major championships. The Rhode Island native started the day at 5 under and broke Nicklaus's 1964 final round record with his 63 and finished at 13-under 271 for fifth place. Faxon, whose front-nine 28 also was a PGA record, became only the 17th man in major championship history to shoot 63, four days after first-round leader Michael Bradley had done it Thursday.

Elkington was not that concerned about any records. He was far more delighted to lift the silver Wanamaker Trophy above his head. Only John Mahaffey, seven strokes behind Tom Watson in the '78 PGA at Oakmont, had overcome a larger deficit.

Elkington also overcame some health setbacks to prevail. Last May, he had sinus surgery to correct a lifelong breathing problem. Four months earlier, he'd had a malignant growth removed from his shoulder. Last week, he withdrew from the Buick Classic because of a sinus infection he'd picked up at the British Open. He was even telling friends on Saturday after shooting 68 that he "felt awful" and hardly 100 percent.

"I was telling that to Jack Nicklaus and he said, A sick player is always the one to watch,' " Elkington said. "The positive is that I was going at a slower pace then I usually do. I was in slow motion because I was physically down."

He was mostly up when he saw Els miss that putt on 17, as he was signing his own scorecard in the Riviera clubhouse office high above the 18th green. He spent most of his time before the playoff playing with his young daughter, born in March during the Tournament Players Championship in Florida.

Still, with a 2-2 record in his past playoffs, he was walking down the 18th fairway back to the 18th tee with only one thought going into the first extra hole.

"My theory is to hit the best shot possible on the first hole and try to get birdie right away," he said.

He drilled a perfect drive down the left side of the fairway, just as Montgomerie also hit a splendid shot off the tee down the right side. Elkington had 178 yards to the hole and hit an 8-iron to about 25 feet, just outside of Montgomerie's second shot to the green. Elkington putted first, and there was never any thought of the ball veering off line.

"I just felt so confident when I was playing all day," he said. "I felt like I could attack when I probably should have been defensive. All the things you're supposed to do with a lead I didn't do. But my swing was perfect. I felt very comfortable out there."

© 1995 The Washington Post Company

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