L.A. Nissan Open Final Round

By Bob Buttitta, Contributor

Triplett Ends Winless Streak With Victory In Los Angeles

PACIFIC PALISADES, CA - Kirk Triplett has spent nine plus years on the PGA Tour, has 39 top 10 finishes and has amassed more than $4 million in career earnings, including a career high $863,399 in 1999. Yet even most hard-core golf fans had probably never heard of him - until Sunday's final round of the Nissan Los Angeles Open.

Triplett started the final round of the Los Angeles Open a stroke behind third round leader David Sutherland but with sharp play that helped him birdie four holes on the front nine, he separated himself from the pack, eventually getting to 13-under par. But for the crafty tour veteran it took a 4-foot par putt on 18 to bring home the victory.

That's because Jesper Parnevik put on a late round rush to make things interesting. Parnevik birdied two of his final three holes, including sinking a 30-foot birdie putt on 18 that got him to 11-under and one stroke behind Triplett.

Parnevik's dramatic birdie meant that Triplett needed to make his putt to win the tournament or be faced with squaring off with Parnevik in a playoff. With everything on the line, Triplett calmly knocked in the biggest putt of his career, earning him his first ever PGA title. The win netted Triplett $558,000 but the judging from his comments it was clear that winning his first tournament in 266 starts on tour meant more to the veteran than the first place prize.

"It's an incredible feeling, and it's been a long time coming," Triplett said. "I don't' even know how much first place wins. I'm just thrilled to win, especially at a great course like Riviera, a place where so many great players have won."

Weather was a factor in the final round, as heavy rains pelted Southern California in the early morning hours on Sunday, softening the course. Most of the rains stopped before the first groups teed off but there were periods of heavy downpours throughout the round.

Triplett encountered one of those downpours while waiting to hit his second shot on No. 12. He waited for the rain to lessen but he said he ended up rushing his shot, leaving it short in the long grass and eventually making bogey.

"The conditions were difficult at times, especially the wind," Triplett said. "But the bogey on 12 was more about me loosing my focus a bit than it was the weather."

Unlike Triplett who played well from the start, Parnevik started out slowly, three putting three of the first six greens he played. But he rebounded with birdies on nine and 10, putts that gave him some confidence that he could win, although he figured it would be tough because of the way Triplett was playing.

"Early on he looked like Tiger out there today," Parnevik said. "Kirk looked so strong, so confident today. He was just hitting the ball so well; I just tried to keep grinding. He looked like he decided that today was going to be his day."

Parnevik said even when Triplett had problems on the back nine; he was able to gather himself. "He made some great saves," Parnevik said. "He was just calm all day."

Heading into 18 Parnevik trailed by two but Triplett hit his tee shot into the rough on the left side of the fairway, giving Parnevik some hope. When he hit his second shot on 18, Parnevik thought by the crowd's reaction that it was closer than it was. As he lined up his putt, he said he actually had to convince himself he could make it.

"I kind of talked myself into it," he said. "When I hit it I thought I might have hit it too hard but I didn't want to leave it short. When it went I was surprised."

As he stood waiting to see if Triplett would make his putt, Parnevik had an unusual thought. "I was hoping he would make it," Parnevik said. "I kind of yelled at myself because I did want to be in a playoff but I'm happy for Kirk. He's a great guy and he's waited a long time."

Triplett said it's gratifying to hear his fellow players support him. "I appreciate Jesper saying that," Triplett said. "He's a class act."

For a while it looked like Robin Freeman was going to be the player to make the most serious run at Triplett. Freeman made a long birdie putt on the par-3, 14th, dropping him to 11-under par, just one stroke back of Triplett at the time.

But down the stretch Freeman spent more time scrambling for pars than he did hunting for birdies. Trailing by two strokes, Freeman's run at a birdie on 17.. He made a bold putt that ran by the hole 5-feet and he then missed the par putt coming back, dropping three strokes behind.

Freeman just missed chipping in for birdie on 18 but it just rolled past the cup and he settled for a par and a 3-under round of 68, leaving him 10-under for the tournament. At that point all Freeman and Russ Cochran, who was also at 10-under could hope for was a collapse from Triplett, something that never happened.

"I lost my concentration on that second putt on 17," Freeman said. "It got away from me. But overall I'm very pleased with the way I played. I have not played that well in the last few years and to play well down the stretch was very pleasing to me."

Triplett did have a few scares along the way. He got in trouble on 15 after a poor second shot landed behind the green on the lip of the bunker. With a horrible lie and stance, Triplett's chip ran by the hole some 30 feet. He successfully lagged his par put to within a foot and tapped it in, but his lead was back down to two.

Undaunted, he hung in there and although it was a bit of a struggle, Triplett said he always felt he was going to hold on.

"I hit every single shot on the button early on and nothing was bothering me," Triplett said. "When I made the birdie at 7, I felt pretty good about things. I knew if I just stayed out of my own way and didn't get ahead of myself I would be OK. I can't tell you I knew I was going to win, but I felt good.

"There were some rocky moments coming in but I was able to steady myself. The last putt I knew the only way I could miss it was to put a bad stroke on it. I just stayed focused. It feels great."

The PGA's best known player, Tiger Woods, started the day three shots off the lead but never made a run at the leaders. He was 1-under through six holes before making three consecutive bogeys on 7,8 and 9, all but ending his quest for the title. Woods finished 1-over for Sunday's round and 5-under for the tournament. His tie for 18th place finish was his lowest finish since the 1999 Sprint International in August where he tied for 37th.

Once again Woods struggled with the putter. Typical of his struggles was No. 8, where Woods had a 12-foot putt for birdie. He ran the birdie putt past the hole by two feet and let lipped out for par, giving him bogey. In Saturday's third round, Woods had both a four putt and a three putt.

"If I would have putted a little better I would have been right there in the championship," Woods said. "It's just one of those weeks. I hit so many good putts that lipped out. A perfect example of that was the last hole. A perfect putt. Looks dead center from 2-feet out and all of a sudden it dies and lips out.

Woods said the conditions were difficult. "It was tough out there today," Tiger said. "The wind was blustery and a little rainy on top of that. All those things combined made for a real tough day.

David Sutherland, who led the tournament by one stroke after three rounds, never seemed to get in sync. Playing in the final group for one of the few times in his PGA career, he was 3-over on the front side, including back-to-back bogeys on eight and nine to sink from contention. He finished the tournament at 6-under, 278 tied for 12th place.

Notes: Despite the bad weather on Sunday, nearly 33,000 fans came out to see the final round. All total, more than 120,000 spectators attended the event... Defending champion Ernie Els was never in contention during the tournament. He finished 4-over par for the tournament... Robin Freeman recorded his first top 10 finish since a tie for sixth at the 1997 Buick Invitational..Triplett's win means that Craig Parry now becomes the golfer with the most money earned in a career without a win. Parry has $3,438,643... Fred Couples continued his fine play at the LA Open. He has played the event 19 times and two wins, nine top-10 finishes. He tied for fifth this year.

Bob Buttitta, Contributor

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment