Former Buc Golfer Garrett Willis Wins Tuscon Open
Former Buc Golfer Garrett Willis Wins Tuscon Open
Monday, January 15, 2001

Garrett Willis, from Knoxville, Tenn., tries on his new trophy, the Conquistadore's helmet. He won the Tucson Open with a -15 under par and a final score of 273 in Tucson, Ariz. on Monday, Jan. 15, 2001. It was his first PGA victory.
(AP Photo/John Miller)

By Mel Reisner (AP)

TUSCON, Ariz. - Garrett Willis won his first event as a card-carrying member of the PGA Tour by sinking a 4-foot putt to save par Monday in the Touchstone Energy Tucson Open.

The 27-year-old rookie shot a 3-under-par 69 to beat Kevin Sutherland by one stroke.

It was a repeat performance for the North Carolina native, who won a Hooters Tour title in Decatur, Ga., in his first professional tournament out of East Tennessee State.

Willis, who finished at 15-under 273, qualified for the 1998 and 1999 U.S. Opens and played in the 1995 Canadian Open as an amateur, failing to make a cut in any of them. He also missed the cut in his last nine tournaments last year one reason he has no bag sponsor.

Then he shot a final-round 63 to earn a tour card at qualifying school. He earned $540,000, vaulting to third on the money list behind World Match Play champion Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk, who won the Mercedes Championships a day earlier.

Is this a great country or what, Willis said.

Willis became the third player to win in his first action as a PGA member. The others were Ben Crenshaw at the 1973 San Antonio-Texas Open, and Robert Gamez in Tucson in 1990.

It was a struggle out there, said Willis moments after the victory. This is well beyond my means right now. Here I was at Q-School just last month.

The tournament ran late because snow and rain Friday forced a one-day postponement of the second round. But scores were low again in the second day of warm sunshine.

Sutherland, one of six first-round co-leaders, had a 68. But Bob Tway, Cliff Kresge and K.J. Choi carded 66s matching the best rounds of the event after Willis' 64 Sunday.

Tway and Geoff Ogilvy, another first-round leader, were at 275, with Kresge, Choi, Greg Kraft and Mark Wiebe at 276. Wiebe became the sixth consecutive third-round leader to fail to hold on in Tucson.

Willis got the last of his five birdies on the 12th hole and played the last five holes knowing Sutherland had birdied No. 16 to go 14-under.

The pressure appeared to get to the rookie on No. 17, when he missed a 4-foot birdie opportunity because he hit it too hard, and again when his approach shot to the 465-yard final hole landed 55 feet short of the flag on the uphill green.

But Willis, who said after shooting 64 in the third round that playing on the manicured courses of the big tour is a privilege in itself, arrived at the green with a smile on his face. He stroked the first putt firmly, sending it up just past the flag, and drilled the winner into the center of the cup.

Wiebe began with a two-shot lead on Willis and four shots on Sutherland, Glen Hnatiuk, Mark Hensby and Andrew Magee.

The lead varied from four strokes to one, but Wiebe held it until he bogeyed No. 12, the second of three straight bogeys that knocked him to 13-under.

Wiebe went first on No. 11 and drove down the right side of the fairway, leaving himself a difficult approach shot.

Willis boomed his drive 25 yards farther, eliciting a that's nice from Wiebe. Thanks, said Willis, who went on to par the hole while Wiebe bogeyed by three-putting from 35 feet after his second shot stopped in the fringe.

Willis went to 15-under and took his first lead since the middle of the third round when he birdied No. 12, an uphill par-3. His tee shot landed 11 feet from the pin and flag-high, and Willis made it.