By Gary D'Amato
Key to success an enigma for Buick champ Bateman
Getty Images - Brian Bateman raises his arms in exaltation after sinking the winning putt on the 18th hole.
The name is Bateman, but it might as well be Everyman or Journeyman. Brian Bateman has been to Q School so many times he's lost track. He went into the Buick Open ranked a lowly 408th in the world. In six-plus years on the PGA Tour he has played in exactly one major championship. So what was the little-known Bateman doing holding the trophy Sunday?
"Well," he said, "I'm still trying to figure out what I did."What he did was put an exclamation mark on a thrilling final round. The tournament appeared to be headed to a four-man playoff until Bateman rolled in a 12-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole for his first victory in 151 career starts. Instead of sudden-death, the 34-year-old Bateman had a new lease on life. "It's a life-changing week," he said. "It' a life-changing putt. But my wife and I are pretty simple people and I doubt this is going to change us much." Bateman shot a 69 at Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club in Grand Blanc, Mich., and finished at 15-under-par 273. He edged Jason Gore (67), Justin Leonard (67) and Woody Austin (69) by one stroke. "It was a great tournament," Gore said. "You had 10 guys who could win at any point." Gore wasn't exaggerating by much. When Bateman bogeyed the eighth hole to fall back to 13-under, six players were tied for the lead. "I've had some trouble the last few times that I've been in the position, playing well on Sunday," Bateman said. "My final-round scoring average has not been very good (75.40). So I had a lot working against me, other than believing in myself." Bateman's putter baled him out down the stretch. He got up and down to save par on No. 16 and did the same on No. 17, rolling an 8-footer into the center of the cup. "Making those two putts, I knew I had it in me," he said. "I kept telling myself on the back side, 'You have to believe in what you're doing. There's no reason why you can't win this tournament.' " He had avoided looking at the leader boards on the back nine, but after striping a 282-yard drive on the 446-yard 18th hole he asked his caddie where he stood. "He said, 'Birdie to win,' " Bateman said. "I had a perfect number (164 yards) for an 8-iron draw to a back-left pin. I hit it just where I was looking." His ball stopped 12 feet 3 inches from the hole and left what he called a "tricky" putt that broke right to left. He stroked the ball and it barely made it to the hole, topping into the cup. "It seemed like it took forever to get to the hole but it went right in the middle," Bateman said. "I just went blank." He jumped 161 spots on the FedEx Cup points list, from No. 205 to No. 44. He also earned $882,000 and moved up to No. 59 on the money list. In addition, he qualified for the 2008 Masters, as well as the PGA Championship in August. His only previous major was the 2004 PGA. Gore marveled at yet another thrilling finish on the PGA Tour. Last week, Hunter Mahan shot a final-round 65 and then beat Jay Williamson in a sudden-death playoff at the Travelers Championship. "Look at last week," Gore said. "You've got Jay Williamson and Hunter Mahan and that was probably one of the best golf tournaments I ever watched on TV. This was a great tournament, too. You had a great champion come up and snatch the trophy from a lot of willing participants. "I think these last two weeks of golf have been fantastic for the Tour and it makes great television drama. It's reality TV at its best." BIRDIES AND BOGEYS Birdie: Leonard and Steve Elkington, both former major championship winners, ended long stretches without a top-10 finish. Leonard's tie for second was his first top-10 since the 2006 FBR Open, a span of nearly 17 months. His check for $365,867 was his biggest since he won the 2005 FedEx St. Jude Classic. "It feels very good," Leonard said of being in contention. "It's amazing, because it's been so long, but it's still a very familiar feeling. I feel fortunate that it is (and that) I don't have to get in there a few times to really get comfortable." Elkington tied for fifth, his first top-10 of the year and his best showing since he tied for second at the 2005 PGA. Birdie: Speaking of season-best efforts, how about Gore? His previous best finish this year was a tie for 15th at the Memorial. "It was a lot of fun to be ... back in contention again where your mouth gets all dry," he said. "That's the cool stuff. We work very hard to be that uncomfortable." Gore, who fired a bogey-free 67 in the final round, said it wasn't frustrating to come so close to his first victory since the 2005 84 Lumber Classic. He barely missed a putt on the final hole that would have put him in a playoff with Bateman. "It wasn't excruciating at all," he said. "I hit a great putt. I hit it right where I was looking and it didn't go in. I didn't play enough break. It's golf. I did all I could." Bogey: It doesn't often happen on the PGA Tour that the winner gets to celebrate while there are still players on the course. Such was the case Sunday, when Tom Pernice Jr. and Jesper Parnevik were all but forgotten as they played the last hole. Pernice entered the final round with the lead but struggled to a 75 and tumbled to a tie for 20th place. Parnevik was tied for second starting the day but shot a 73 and tied for 16th. Parnevik made nine birdies Saturday but just one Sunday. Birdie: Austin won the St. Jude Championship last month and likes where his game is taking him. "I think I'm starting to get back to where I was in my rookie year when I came out," he said. "I was a very consistent player. I think I'm getting close to being back to that consistency." Bogey: Charles Howell III got off to a great start this year, posting five top-10 finishes in his first seven starts, including a victory at the Nissan Open. But whatever he was doing then, he's not doing now. He doesn't have a top-10 finish since that opening stretch and missed the cut Friday. Howell's best start since the Masters was a tie for 51st at the U.S. Open. Birdie: John Daly has been struggling on and off the course and a tell-all interview with Rich Lerner is to air Tuesday night on the Golf Channel. It's too early to say whether his solid performance at Warwick Hills was a step in the right direction or just a one-week aberration. But let's err on the side of giving him some credit. Daly's tie for 16th was his best finish since a playoff loss at the 2005 World Golf Championships-American Express Championship. Parting shot: Jim Furyk extended one of the more remarkable streaks in golf. His final-round 70 gave him 37 consecutive under-par rounds in the Buick Open. The last -- and only -- time Furyk shot an above-par score was in the third round in 1997. He has matched or broken par in 51 of 52 career rounds at Warwick Hills. On the horizon: It's not a major, but the AT&T National, a new event held at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., has been highly anticipated for months. The reason? It's Tiger Woods' show. Woods is the host and is in the field, along with just about every big name in the game, including Vijay Singh, Adam Scott, Jim Furyk, Geoff Ogilvy and Phil Mickelson, who says his left wrist won't be a factor. Also, the U.S. Senior Open is being contested at Whistling Straits in Haven, Wis. Allen Doyle will be trying to win an unprecedented third straight Senior Open title but red-hot Jay Haas and Loren Roberts stand in his way.
Gary D'Amato covers golf for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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