Another late rally ends 11-year drought for Goydos

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HONOLULU (AP) – Paul Goydos staged an unlikely rally 11 weeks ago just to keep his PGA Tour card. Sunday was even sweeter, with three birdies in the final four holes at the Sony Open for his first victory in 11 years.

Goydos closed with a 3-under 67 and made birdie on the last hole when his 25-foot chip banged into the pin and settled within tap-in range. Charles Howell III and Luke Donald tied for second, a stroke back.

“I never felt like I was going to win,” said Goydos, who earned $936,000, more than he made all last year.

The tournament belonged to Howell for most of a sunny afternoon at Waialae until a sudden shift on the back nine, when Howell made back-to-back bogeys and Goydos made consecutive birdies.

“This one hurts,” Howell said.

He had a chance to force a playoff when his 8-iron from the rough didn’t come out as hot as he expected, and the shot came up 50 feet short of the green. His chip ran 15 feet past the pin, and the birdie putt never had a chance. He shot 70 for his seventh runner-up since his only victory in 2002.

“The chip just wasn’t good enough,” Howell said.

Donald had an eagle chip on the par-5 18th that would have forced a playoff, but it hit the pin and spun away, leaving him with a 69.

Tadd Fujikawa, the 16-year-old who became the youngest player in 50 years to make a cut on the PGA Tour, finished his dream week with a birdie on the final hole for a 72, putting him in a tie for 20th.

“I never imagined myself doing this, especially at this age,” Fujikawa said, who returns to the 10th grade on Tuesday.

Goydos might not have been in Oahu this week except for the final full tournament of 2006. He was headed for Q-school when he put together his best four rounds of the year and tied for second in the Chrysler Championship, earning enough money to finish 97th on the money list and keep his card.

He didn’t waste any time with the new year.

Goydos’ last victory came at the 1996 Bay Hill Invitational – so long ago that Tiger Woods was still an amateur.

“I set some goals, and one of them was to win every decade,” Goydos deadpanned. “I’m stunned.”

This one looked in doubt until he rolled in a 25-foot birdie on the 15th hole to catch Howell, and a 15-footer on the next hole to take the lead. Goydos made bogey from the bunker on the 17th, and the man they call “Sunshine” – a sarcastic reference to his dour demeanor – finally found reason to smile on the closing hole.

From 25 feet off the green, his chip banged into the pin and stopped a foot away; otherwise, it likely would have rolled some 10 feet by.

“That chip could have gone where Charles’ did,” Goydos said. “Fortunately for me, it stopped close enough where I could make it.”

Goydos finished at 14-under 266.

“I try to win every tournament I play, so I accomplished that goal,” Goydos said dryly. “My last two events I’ve gone 2-1, so it’s going to be hard to improve on that.”

For the longest time, it looked as though this would be a two-man race.

Howell and Donald didn’t do anything special over the first five holes, but it was enough to separate them from the pack. A combination of the steady trade wind and Sunday pin placements made it tough for anyone to make a charge, and most went backward.

Fujikawa was the first to go.

It must have been hard for the kid to ignore the magnitude of what he had done all week at Waialae. Leaving the putting green, he walked 80 yards up the fairway toward the first tee, the crowd six deep and cheering his every step. Waiting for him was Jim Furyk, a former U.S. Open champion and No. 2 player in the world.

“You’re having some fun this week,” Furyk told him with a big smile.

Fujikawa opened with two pars, but then chunked his iron into the water and took double bogey on No. 3, then lost another shot when he hit into a bunker on the par-3 fourth. Just like that, he was nine shots behind. He revved up the crowd with a 25-foot par save on the sixth and back-to-back birdies around the turn, and the gallery stayed with him the whole way.

The finish could not have been scripted any better. Fujikawa saved par from a cavernous bunker on the 17th, then got up-and-down from a bunker for birdie on the 18th.

“Everybody out here cheering me on and supporting me, it’s the best feeling in the world,” Fujikawa said.

Howell and Goydos were busy battling butterflies, having gone what seemed like a lifetime without winning – Howell since the 2002 Michelob Championship at Kingsmill (now an LPGA Tour event).

Howell hit his best two shots of the front nine – a tee shot that rolled 321 yards, followed by a 7-iron that landed softly some 12 feet from the cup. He made it for eagle and took a two-shot lead to the back nine, and when Howell saved par with an 7-foot putt on the 11th, he appeared to be in control.

But his tee shots had been spotty, and they started to hurt him. Howell pulled his drive on the 12th, hit a tree trying on his second shot and had to hit a nifty shot to 15 feet to escape with bogey. He found the left rough on his next shot and took bogey, then steadied himself from the left trees on 14th, going around them to 45 feet for a two-putt par.

By then, the game was on with a new opponent.

And when it was over, it was a familiar result for Howell.

Divots: Doug LaBelle, one of 28 rookies on the PGA Tour this year, birdied his last two holes Friday to make the cut on the number. Then he went 66-65 on the weekend to tie for fourth. … John Daly cut the corner on the 16th hole and hit a 395-yard drive into a greenside bunker. … Vijay Singh, coming off a victory last week at Kapalua, birdied his last three holes for a 69. He tied for 34th at 277. The good news for the big Fijian is that he stayed atop the FedExCup points list, with only 32 weeks remaining until the playoffs. … Mathew Goggin disqualified himself after realizing he had taken an improper drop earlier in the week. He was 1 over going into the final round.

AP-ES-01-14-07 2302EST

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