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Joe Durant Wins PGA Western Open

June 29, 1998

LEMONT, Ill. (AP) _ Joe Durant has had several titles in his career: journeyman golfer, erstwhile insurance salesman, gofer for a golf distributor, leader for a few holes at the U.S. Open.

Now he can add a new one: champion.

Durant birdied three of his last five holes Sunday to pull away from Vijay Singh and win the Western Open for his first tournament victory on the PGA Tour.

``I’m a little overwhelmed. I didn’t think I’d ever be sitting here as a tournament winner,″ said Durant, whose previous best finish was a tie for fifth at last year’s Honda Classic. ``I felt like I was a good player, but I always thought it was going to take something special to win a tournament. Maybe today was something special.″

Durant had a 6-under-par 66 to finish with a 17-under 271 total, two strokes ahead of Singh, the third-round leader. Singh was up and down throughout a final-round 72, his first round over 70 in the tournament at Cog Hill’s Dubsdread course.

U.S. Open winner Lee Janzen couldn’t duplicate his magic of last weekend, shooting a 71 and finishing in a tie for third at 277 with Dudley Hart, who tied the course record with a 9-under 63.

Greg Kraft, the first-round leader who was second in the 1994 Western Open, fell apart on the final day of the $2.2 million, Motorola-sponsored event. He shot a 3-over 75 to finish at 10-under 278. Steve Stricker, the 1996 Western Open champion, also was at 278 after shooting a 71 Sunday.

Tiger Woods had another strong round, shooting a 69 to finish at 7-under 281. But the defending champion was never in contention after his dismal first round, when he shot a 4-over 76 and was in danger of missing the cut.

It’s not been an easy season for Woods, who’s been plagued by poor putting and has won only one PGA Tour event. But Woods said he was pleased with how he played this week.

``My game is very close,″ he said. ``I’ve got a real good feeling because I’m over the putter now thinking, `I’m hoping they’re going to go in,′ to `I know they’re going to go in.′ That’s a big difference.″

For Durant, his golfing career has been one continuous struggle. In his early years on the Hogan tour, he would be in the top five in the early rounds, only to blow it on Sunday.

Frustrated, he quit golf at the end of 1991, selling insurance and working at a golf distributor to make ends meet. But he still wasn’t happy, and his wife, Tracey, convinced him to give golf another try.

``I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a group of people who believed in me more than I believed in myself,″ Durant said. ``That’s the reason I’m sitting here today.″

He’s bounced between the Nike and PGA tours the past five years, doing OK, but never well enough to draw any attention. He was 100th on the money list last year with $240,936.

Then came the U.S. Open. Durant started strong, and actually led the field for a few holes and was just two strokes off the lead after the first round. But his weekend rounds were poor, and he faded from everyone’s view as Janzen overcame Payne Stewart, finishing in a tie for 32nd.

Durant brought that early form from the U.S. Open with him to Cog Hill, leading after the second round and starting Sunday four strokes behind Singh.

He had birdies on Nos. 1, 3, 5 and 9 to make the turn at 14-under, and then added two more on Nos. 10 and 11. A bogey on No. 12 was actually good, because Durant said it got him to concentrate and focus.

He had birdies on Nos. 14, 15 and 17, but the realization of what he was about to accomplish kicked in on the 18th. His second shot went into the deep rough to the left of the green, and he chunked his first chip shot, putting it on the fringe.

He chipped that to within 2 feet of the pin, and then tapped in for bogey on the par-4 hole.

``I’ve got to admit, when I got close to the end, I started thinking about Augusta,″ said Durant, whose victory qualifies him for next year’s Masters. ``To be recognized, at least once in your life, that you’ve done something good, means a lot.″

Trading birdies and bogeys on the front nine, Singh was never quite able to get ahead. After bogeying 14, he chipped in from 40 feet for an eagle on the par-5 15th. But he bogeyed 16 after putting his second shot into a trap, and the tournament was Durant’s.

``Very scrappy round,″ Singh said. ``On the whole, I thought I played OK. I didn’t play great, I didn’t play badly. It wasn’t good enough to win.″

Kraft was in the hunt through the front nine, but he bogeyed 8 and 10 and knocked himself out of the running on 14. His tee shot on the par-3 went into the bunker, and after putting his second shot on the fringe, he two-putted for a bogey that put him 11 under.

Hart, who started the day at two under, had five birdies on the front nine and four on the back to tie the course record held by Jeff Sluman (third round, 1992), and John Adams (third round, 1993). He almost had the record to himself, but his birdie putt on No. 18 rolled just below the hole.

``I wasn’t really thinking about a course record,″ said Hart, who withdrew from the U.S. Open after hurting his wrist in the first round. ``That doesn’t mean as much as shooting as low as you can and finishing well in the tournament.″

Divots: Durant’s $396,000 victory more than doubled his career earnings. ... Durant’s 17-under 271 was the third-lowest winning score since the Western Open moved to Cog Hill in 1991. ... Six players were 10 under or better, the highest number to reach that figure since 1993.

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