Sutton holds nerve to prove Woods is human

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The Independent Online

Hal Sutton, the man who never admits to playing for second place, beat Tiger Woods to win the US Players Championship when the final round was completed at Sawgrass yesterday morning. Even when Woods eagled the 16th, along with the full fist-pumping routine, to move within one stroke, the 41-year-old never wavered.

Sutton, who also won the Players in a Monday finish 17 years ago, safely found the green at the 17th, where he suffered a triple-bogey six on Saturday, and then hit a superb drive followed by a courageous six-iron to 10 feet at the last. Woods, over the green in two, just missed his attempt at chipping in to leave Sutton with two putts for the victory.

Far more than the huge first prize of $1.08m (£675,000), Sutton was determined to prove Woods could not intimidate him into handing over the title. "I didn't want to beat myself," said Sutton, who was over par only once in the last 36 holes. "I drove the ball so well. I knew if you give Tiger an open door he'll rush through. I knew he was going to make a charge and I was planning on him making that eagle putt at 16."

Born into a wealthy oil family in Shreveport, Louisiana, Sutton won the USPGA at the age of 25 but then ran into personal problems. Now happily married to Ashley, his fourth wife, with three daughters, his game has returned over the last four years. "Tiger is not bigger than the game," Sutton said. "I was in bed and realised that I was not praying to him, so he is not a god. He is just human. But I know how hard he is to beat. He is a great player and lives up to his No 1 ranking every day."

Sutton led from the first day and had to sleep on the lead for an extra night when play was halted by a thunderstorm on Sunday afternoon. "I was wondering what else I had to deal with," Sutton said. Woods immediately three-putted the 12th on the resumption to fall four behind, but birdied the short 13th before hitting a drive of over 325 yards at the par-five 16th. His five-iron second shot gave him an eagle putt from 15 feet which he duly holed.

Despite the loss Woods has now finished in the top two in six of his seven events this year and will remain a short-priced favourite for the Masters next week. "My game is progressing right on schedule," Woods said.

Others were as relieved as Sutton. Colin Montgomerie said: "It was important for the rest of us to see it is possible to beat Tiger. He is not so dominant that we don't have a chance. Had Tiger won here, he would have been totally dominant."

Montgomerie, after a 70, finished in a five-way tie for third place, earning $270,600, after a sequence of pars from the 15th. To do so he needed to get up and down three times, the most important at the last. His approach spun off the green to the left into a bunker and his recovery ran 18 feet past the hole. It would have cost him almost $85,000 had he missed, but just the fact of holing the putt gave the Scot immense satisfaction.

"It doesn't matter if it was for $10 to beat a friend or for $100,000, it is nice to know that they can go in," Monty said.

After three lowly finishes in his previous outings this season, Montgomerie feels he is beginning to peak nicely, especially with the Masters coming up. "To be third here against the strongest field of the year and on what I believe is the best course we play is good," he said. "I have played at Augusta enough to know I can do well there if I hole the right putts at the right time."

Montgomerie has, however, never really felt at home at Augusta due to the lack of thick rough that boarders the fairways at Sawgrass. "There is a premium on hitting the fairways here which makes it more of a level playing field with Tiger," Monty said. "Augusta is not a level playing field where Tiger is concerned but I know I can win if I play very, very well and hole the right putts."

Fanny Sunesson, Nick Faldo's former caddie who was sacked by Sergio Garcia after only three months, will work for the American Fred Funk. "Sergio and Fanny were not a personality match," Funk said. "There was no flare-up. Sergio thought it was time for a change and probably so did Fanny. No one works harder out here and she felt she was not really appreciated."

Final scoreboard (prizes in brackets)

278 H Sutton 69 69 69 71 (£679,245) 279 T Woods 71 71 66 71 (£407,547) 284 N Price 73 71 73 67, J Maggert 77 68 71 68, S Dunlap 73 70 71 70, C Montgomerie 75 69 70 70, R Damron 78 70 66 70 (£170,188 each) 285 T Lehman 71 68 72 74 (£116,981) 286 M O'Meara 75 74 70 67, G Chalmers 71 75 69 71, L Mattiace 70 72 73 71, L Janzen 70 73 70 73 287 D Duval 75 73 70 69, J Carter 73 71 72 71, S Hoch 73 75 68 71, F Funk 74 73 68 72 288 B Mayfair 70 74 73 71, P Azinger 75 69 70 74, J Sluman75 71 66 76 289 S Verplank 75 74 68 72, E Els 73 69 72 75 290 T Bjorn 76 73 72 69, S Appleby 72 77 71 70, G Kraft 77 72 70 71, J Leonard 71 76 69 74, C Parry 70 74 69 77 291 S Jones 80 70 72 69, E Toledo 75 74 72 70, N Ozaki 70 77 73 71, C Franco 73 73 73 72, S Pate 76 74 68 73, K Perry 70 77 70 74 292 F Couples 77 73 73 69, V Singh 75 73 74 70, H Frazar 77 70 72 73, C Perry 76 70 71 75, S Cink 75 73 69 75 293 S Flesch 79 71 72 71, D Toms 77 72 72 72, O Uresti 71 68 80 74, B Fabel 70 74 75 74 294 J Kelly 79 70 73 72, B Langer 70 76 75 73, K Triplett 75 72 74 73, S Gump 72 75 73 74, JP Hayes 73 76 71 74, S Ames 72 72 75 75 295 C Riley 73 77 75 70, J Daly 77 73 74 71, L Westwood 77 73 72 73, D Love 73 75 72 75, F Lickliter 75 74 71 75 296 N Faldo 73 76 76 71, R Allenby 73 71 77 75, D Sutherland 75 74 71 76, G Norman 75 71 73 77 297 B Glasson 74 72 80 71, D Frost 78 69 78 72, C Barlow 71 76 75 75, M Brooks 72 75 71 79 298 K Wentworth 74 72 75 77, W Austin 77 72 71 78, R Cochran 77 73 71 77, J Furyk 72 72 75 79 299 T Kite 75 72 77 75, D Barron 72 74 76 77, F Allem 75 65 82 77, S McCarron 78 67 77 77, B Chamblee 74 74 73 78, S Lowery 76 74 71 78, I Woosnam 76 74 70 79 300 T Tryba 75 71 80 74, D Forsman 77 73 75 75, B Watts 77 71 74 78, P Lawrie 76 74 71 79 301 B Faxon 79 71 76 75, N Henke 78 70 76 77, O Browne 77 73 71 80, R Black 74 76 70 81

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