Glory for Perks as Faldo fades

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The Independent Online

Craig Perks may have been an unknown before yesterday but his incredible finish at the TPC at Sawgrass to win the Players Championship, in one of the greatest upsets of recent times, will soon change that. As the world No 1 and defending champion Tiger Woods said when handing over the trophy to the 35-year-old Kiwi, ranked 203rd in the world: "You're unbelievable."

One behind the clubhouse target of six under set by Stephen Ames, playing the 16th, Perks finished eagle, birdie, par over the treacherous final three holes on the Stadium course. He chipped in twice, including at the last for only the fifth par of a 72 that gave him a two-stroke victory.

Perks, playing in the tournament for the first time, became the first man in the 28-year-old history of the event to win his maiden US Tour title at the Players. He won £750,000, doubling his career earnings, and exemptions for all four majors this year. Next month's Masters will be his first ever appearance in a major.

"I love watching the majors on TV, now I will be going to Augusta," Perks said. "This was the most difficult course I've ever played but I pride myself in hanging in there. I drove it all over the place and missed putts I never thought I would miss but I knew if I could hang in there anything could happen."

A former New Zealand table tennis champion, Perks moved to the States to attend college and has lived in Louisiana ever since. Earlier this month he was paired along side Woods as the American made a charge at the Doral tournament won by Ernie Els. The experience helped Perks on a wild final day when it was Ames who made the biggest charge.

Starting eight behind the overnight leader Carl Paulson, Ames shot a 67. As others fell back, the 37-year-old from Trinidad and Tobago led by one playing the final two holes and dropped a shot at the last when he missed the green and took two chips and a putt to get down.

From then on Ames could only wait and watch on a big screen by the practice range. While Paulson collapsed with five bogeys in six holes on the front nine, Perks rode a bizarre rollercoaster. Between the 5th and the 17th, he had only one par, five birdies, an eagle and six bogeys. He twice missed putts from inside two feet.

Birdies at the 11th and 13th had put him briefly ahead but he came to the 16th one behind. His second at the par-five stopped in the strip of rough by the edge of the lake and he chipped in for eagle from 20 feet. At the short 17th, Perks hit his tee shot to 30 feet and then holed that to go two ahead.

An even bigger outsider than when Paul Lawrie won the Open at Carnoustie in 1999, Perks almost did an imitation of Jean Van de Velde from the same fateful afternoon. His drive at the last went well right and he could only chip out on to the fairway. His third then went through the green bringing a play-off back into the equation but Perks then chipped in again. "As soon as it landed I knew I had won," he said. "When it went in, that was an incredible emotion."

Of those starting at three under, Nick Faldo went back rapidly, Woods never got going and Sergio Garcia tied for fourth, one behind Rocco Mediate. Three days good work for Faldo unravelled as he could only par three holes on the front nine. He went out in 42, including a double bogey at the 14. He finished with an 80. "Retirement moves closer," Faldo said. "I was no good today."

PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP (Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida) Leading final scores (US unless stated): 280 C Perks (NZ) 71 68 69 72. 282 S Ames (Trin) 74 69 72 67. 283 R Mediate 71 70 69 73. 284 S Garcia (Sp) 70 72 71 71; J Sluman 69 69 72 74; S Hoch 67 77 68 72; B Andrade 73 69 70 72; C Paulson 69 69 69 77. 285 N Price (Zim) 74 71 71 69; J Huston 73 69 73 70. 286 J Kelly 69 76 74 67; M Campbell (NZ) 72 68 74 72; R Allenby (Aus) 69 73 72 72. 287 J Maggert 72 72 71 72; R Goosen (SA) 71 71 72 73; J Furyk 71 72 71 73; T Woods 71 72 70 74; S Maruyama (Japan) 72 72 69 74. 288 S Stricker 69 74 71 74; M Weir (Can) 70 73 68 77; D Toms 69 72 70 77. 289 T Bjorn (Den) 74 72 75 68; C Riley 71 74 74 70; P Harrington (Irl) 70 72 77 70; B Langer (Ger) 75 71 72 71; C Franco (Par) 75 69 72 73; S Lowery 69 73 71 76. 290 S Verplank 71 75 73 71; KJ Choi (S Kor) 71 75 73 71; B Tway 74 68 77 71; T Lehman 73 71 74 72; T Herron 71 73 74 72; S Appleby (Aus) 69 74 75 72; P Mickelson 64 75 75 76; D Duval 68 75 72 75. 291 T Kite 72 71 79 69; G Day 71 75 73 72; B Faxon 71 73 74 73; J M Olazabal (Sp) 73 73 71 74; A Cabrera (Arg) 71 72 73 75; C DiMarco 66 75 74 76; B May 73 70 73 75; C Stadler 71 72 72 76. Selected others: 292 E Els (SA) 76 69 79 68. 293 N Faldo (GB) 68 73 72 80. 294 C Parry (Aus) 72 73 72 77. 296 S Elkington (Aus) 74 68 77 77; C Montgomerie (GB) 70 76 72 78. 303 D Frost (SA) 71 75 75 82.

* The Spaniard Diego Borrego held off his compatriot Ivo Giner and the Dutchman Maarten Lafeber to win the Madeira Island Open by a stroke yesterday after closing with a 69 for a seven-under-par 281 total.

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