BETHESDA, Md. (AP) – Sergio Garcia emerged from a pack of contenders to master Congressional’s Blue Course as few others have, closing with a 6-under 65 on Sunday for a two-stroke victory in the Booz Allen Classic.

Garcia looked in major form in the final tournament before the U.S. Open when he took a big lead with a front-nine 30 and then held steady through a few precarious holes down the stretch. He finished with a 14-under 270 total.

Davis Love III (66), Ben Crane (67) and 2004 winner Adam Scott (68) tied for second.

Garcia’s 270 total tied the course record at Congressional, which wasn’t its usual fearsome self in its first PGA Tour event in eight years. Craig Stadler shot a 10-under 270 when the Booz Allen, then known as the Kemper Open, was played on the Blue Course in a different configuration in 1981.

Third-round leader Tom Kite, attempting to become the oldest winner in PGA Tour history at age 55, struggled with his putter and finished with a 74 to tie for 13th at 7-under 277.

Garcia’s sixth PGA Tour victory helped compensate for his collapse in last month’s Wachovia Championship, when the 25-year-old Spanish star blew a six-shot lead in the final round before losing to Vijay Singh in a three-way playoff.

Garcia, who also won the Buick Classic last year the week before the U.S. Open, said the “Wachovia ghost” was flying through his head when he missed the green with his tee shot at the par-3 18th to finish with a bogey, but his lead was safe because Scott – the only player left with a realistic chance to overtake him – put a bad-hop approach in the water at the No. 17. Scott’s shot bounced at the edge of the green and in a bunker before dropping in the water, forcing him to settle for bogey.

Garcia breezed through the first 10 holes. He one-putted eight consecutive greens, including an 18-footer for eagle at the par-5 sixth and a 10-foot putt for birdie at No. 10, the hardest hole on the course. He was in the sand at No. 13 but saved par with another 10-footer. He bogeyed No. 15 after his approach landed in the rough, but he regained the stroke with a 25-foot birdie putt at the 16th.

The day began with 16 players within two shots of the lead, including some of the top names in golf. Some made runs, while others faltered.

Phil Mickelson’s 2-foot putt for par lipped out at the first hole on his way to a 74. Steve Elkington (73) was 12 under for the tournament before a bogey at No. 9 and a double bogey at No. 10 after his approach landed in the water. Ernie Els (72) sprayed his tee shots all over the course – as he did all week – but he kept recovering and eventually put together four straight birdies to get to 13 under before bogeys at Nos. 11, 12 and 13 knocked him out of contention.

As for Kite, his bid to surpass Sam Snead as the oldest ever winner on tour had a promising start with a birdie at the first hole. But then he badly pushed a 3-foot par putt short at the second and three-putted from 25 feet at the third, crucial mistakes on a day when a bad hole could cost a half-dozen or so spots on the leaderboard.

Love, Crane and Scott finished with second-place scores that would have dominated the U.S. Opens held at Congressional in 1964 and 1997, as well as most of the PGA Tour events held here in the 1980s. But a storm early in the week left the greens soft, and the rough wasn’t as high as it was when Els won here in 1997.

Crane was involved in a controversial finish with playing partner Rory Sabbatini after both were warned for slow play on the back nine. An obviously unhappy Sabbatini putted out of turn on the 17th green and was booed as he marched to the 18th tee before Crane finished out.

At the 18th, Sabbatini was again booed by the gallery as he approached the green. Crane wasn’t perturbed, sinking a 50-foot birdie putt to finish his round. The two exchanged a weak handshake as Sabbatini stormed toward the clubhouse.

“Rory’s a fast player, and I’m a slow player, so the only reason we’re on the clock is because of me,” Crane said. “Is Rory out of line? No, not really. I’m the one who got us on the clock. I understand how he feels. Can that change it? No. I need to work on picking it up, but I obviously don’t want to hit the shot before I’m ready.”

Divots: Singh (71) tied for 29th at 5-under 279, which will drop him to No. 2 on the world rankings behind Tiger Woods. It will be the sixth time Singh and Woods have swapped turns at the top this year. … Sabbatini shot a 70, ending his tournament- record streak at 11 consecutive rounds in the 60s. … After putting his drive into the left rough on the first tee, Ryuji Imada holed his next shot from 100 yards for an eagle to move within two shots of the lead. However, he bogeyed the next hole.

AP-ES-06-12-05 1812EDT

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