GRAND BLANC, Mich. -- Brian Bateman's knees buckled. He
tossed his putter in the air and pumped his fists.
His long wait for a PGA Tour victory ended with a birdie on the
last hole Sunday at the Buick Open, breaking a four-way tie and
making him the improbable winner.
"It seemed like it took forever to get to the hole," Bateman
said of the slow-rolling putt that broke slightly from right to
left. "Then, I just went blank and threw my hands up and said,
`Man, I finally did it."'
Bateman entered his 151st PGA Tour event 204th on the money list
in his sixth year with the world's best golfers.
His best previous finish was third before he closed with a 3
under to finish 15-under 273 and win by a shot with the highest
winning score at Warwick Hills since 1997.
"Every player from Tiger Woods to Brian Bateman has to win
their first one," he said.
Bateman's chances of winning were boosted when Woods and Vijay
Singh didn't make their usual appearance.
Woods (with his wife and baby) and Singh (resting a sore elbow)
didn't play at the Buick Open for the first time since 2001 after
combining to win four of the previous five.
That might've diminished the Buick Open title for some players,
but not for Bateman.
The 34-year-old native and resident of Monroe, La., earned an
$882,000 check -- surpassing his total earnings in all but one of
his previous five years on the PGA Tour. He made just more than
$900,000 in 2004, when he finished a career-best 86th on the money
Bateman shot up to 59 on the money list and 44th in FedEx Cup
A perfect drive and approach at No. 18 -- the tournament's
third-toughest hole -- set Bateman up for his 12-footer that kept
him out of a playoff, earned him a two-year exemption on the PGA
Tour and an invitation to the 2008 Masters.
"It's a life-changing week," he said. "A life-changing
In a tournament that started in 1958, Bateman was just the
second player to birdie 18 for a one-shot victory. Rocco Mediate
did it in 2000.
"I teared up in the fairway on 18, knowing I was finally giving
myself a chance," he said.
The final leaderboard at the Buick had never before been so
crowded at the top. The first 15 players were all within three
shots of each other. In 1991, the first 14 players were within
three shots of each other.
The greens at Warwick Hills usually draw rave reviews, but dry
conditions baked the greens and frustrated the field.
"I would say they're right there with the U.S. Open in that
they're really crusty and firm and bumpy around the hole," Austin
While Bateman's final stroke will make the highlights on TV, a
putt he made at No. 17 made the win possible. He made an 8-footer,
avoiding a costly bogey, after missing the green on the par-3 hole.
"My putter really bailed me out," Bateman said.
For the first time since 1999, the Buick Open winner didn't play
in the final group.
Third-round leader Tom Pernice Jr. shot a 75, finishing in a tie
for 20th at 10 under. Jesper Parnevik, who was also in the final
group, didn't fare much better with a 73 to finish tied for 16th at
Bateman insisted he looked at a leaderboard only once, after the
"I didn't ask my caddie at all how I stood until I stood in the
last fairway and I asked him what we needed," Bateman recalled.
"And he said, `Birdie to win."'
Bateman teared up on the final fairway, then regained his
composure well enough to make a putt on a green that fooled many in
the field all week.
"When I got to 18, I really felt like it was my time," he
said. "I felt like this was my one chance, since I've been on
Tour, to have a putt on the 18th hole to win. It's something you
tell yourself as a kid on the putting green, `This is to win.'
"It's very gratifying, when you've come up short so many times,
to finally pull through."
John Daly, finishing a season-best 16th, attracted the
largest gallery and it included one of his famous friends, Kid
Rock, who invited Daly to stay at his Detroit-area house during the
week. ... Bateman's winning score was the highest since Singh (15
under) won his first of three Buick Opens in 1997. ... Bateman
became the eighth player to win his first PGA Tour event this year
and the third straight, following Angel Cabrera at the U.S. Open
and Hunter Mahan at the Travelers Championship. ... The previous
three first-time winners at the Buick Open were Pernice (1999),
Leonard (1996) and Austin (1995). ... Leonard and Gore finished in
the top 10 for the first time this year. ... Furyk was under par
for the 37th straight round at Warwick Hills, dating back to 1997.