Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Playoff Birdie Sends Conley Winging to Win Storm Delay Is a Setback for Runner-Up

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Playoff Birdie Sends Conley Winging to Win Storm Delay Is a Setback for Runner-Up

Article excerpt

The Nike Tour bills itself as an incubator for up-and-coming pros, a virtual Camp Don Golfsco for all the fuzzy-cheeked PGA stars of tomorrow.

In truth, it is as much a home for skilled golfers in mature stages of life, men with families and bills, men with real-life problems and a dream that refuses to die.

Two of those men faced off on the final day of the Nike Gateway Classic at Lake Forest Country Club.

One could feel excitement for the winner, 37-year old Tim Conley, who birdied No. 18 to win on the first hole of a playoff.

And one could just plain feel for runner-up Javier Sanchez, also 37, who came within a whisker and an untimely storm delay of winning for the first time on American soil.

Both men finished their regulation rounds at 10-under par for the tournament, forcing the playoff, but how they finished was radically different. Conley, who wound up with a 3-under 69 on the day, rammed home an 8-foot putt for birdie on No. 18, as lightning crackled in the air.

"I didn't even see my putt before that," said Conley, who had about a 15-footer for eagle and ran it 8 feet past. "I saw lightning on the backswing and after that I couldn't even look."

While Conley finished just in time, Sanchez was less fortunate. The native of Taistan, Mexico, sat 60 yards from the 18th green after his third shot on the par-5. He was 10-under for the tournament and a birdie away from paydirt.

But as Sanchez stood over his shot, the storm siren sounded and play was halted. (* THREE STAR VERSION stated " ...abruptly halted." *) A pause of 1 hour 49 minutes preceded resumption of play.

"I wouldn't want to be in his position," Conley said, during the break. "I'm glad I'm in here and done."

When play resumed, Sanchez pulled his wedge to the left of the green and two-putted from 14 feet. The playoff ensued.

"I'd rather lose than get hit by lightning," Sanchez said, "but it's too bad we had to wait. I wish we could have finished because I was playing very well and I had a good rhythm going. I was in the fairway in good shape to get a birdie, but you never know.

"But that is such a feel shot from there. It's hard to wait that long and then go out and hit that kind of shot with your first swing."

Conley, who was 7-under par on the par-5s through the week, pulled his playoff tee shot into the left fairway bunker. But his 6-iron landed 105 yards from the green - just where he wanted it.

"I could have gone for the green, but sometimes you're better off keeping things simple," Conley said. "I told my caddie, `Let's play this game from 100 yards in.' "

His 105-yard wedge landed 4 feet from the pin. Sanchez was spectacular, putting his approach to 12 feet. His birdie attempt was the right distance but 2 inches to the left of the hole. Conley knocked in the short putt for the victory. …

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