2002: Against all odds

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Las Vegas

Trailing by five strokes at the start of the final round, Phil Tataurangi didn’t think he had a chance to win the Invensys Classic at Las Vegas. But as he kept piling up the birdies, his odds in Sin City got better and better.

Tataurangi, who began the day in a seven-way tie for 12th place, set a goal of 62 for the final round Oct. 13, then went out and met it. Three golfers – Jim Furyk (68), Stuart Appleby (66)

and Jeff Sluman (67) – failed to convert birdie opportunities on the 18th hole that would have tied Tataurangi.

“It’s out of my wildest dreams to have won,” the New Zealander said after shooting a 10-under 62 to win the Invensys Classic at Las Vegas with a 29-under. “No way did I start out the day thinking I had a chance to win.

“It’s pretty bizarre, isn’t it? To beat the players who were in the field this week is very special to me.”

Tataurangi became the PGA Tour’s 15th first-time winner this year – breaking the previous record set in 1991. To do it, he had to overcome third-round leader David Duval and Furyk, a three-time Vegas winner.

Duval, who hasn’t won since last year’s British Open, entered Sunday with a one-shot lead after shooting a 63 in Saturday’s fourth round, but struggled Sunday to a 1-under 71. He bogeyed three of his first 11 holes and finished tied for sixth. Still, it was just the second top-10 finish of the year for the world’s former No. 1 player.

Appleby had the best chance to tie Tataurangi after nearly making a hole-in-one on the 17th hole. But he badly missed a 10-footer for birdie at No. 18.

Furyk, who had won three of the last seven Vegas tournaments, had a three-shot lead after seven holes and had yet to make a bogey in the tournament. But he bogeyed the eighth hole, missed a short birdie putt on the ninth and made two more bogeys on the back nine.

The final one came on No. 18, when, needing a birdie to tie, he hit his second shot from 184 yards well left of the green and nearly in the water.

Tataurangi said he didn’t even know he was leading until after he finished his round. He played his entire round without looking at a leaderboard, sticking to a game plan to try and shoot a 62 – knowing that a slew of Sunday birdies usually

is required to win at the gracious TPC at Summerlin layout.

“I was as in the moment as I’ve ever been,” said Tataurangi, who earned $900,000 for the triumph to move to No. 33 on the money list.

Tataurangi finished 89th on the money list in 1998, including a career-high second-place finish at the Michelob Championship at Kingsmill. But he fell on hard times after that, finishing 150th in 1999 to lose his exemption. Hampered by a

lingering neck injury, he played in just 10 events combined on the PGA and Buy.com tours in 2000 – making just one cut – before returning and

finishing 189th in earnings last year.

Until his victory in Las Vegas, he probably was best known on Tour for his 17th-hole collapse at the Air Canada Championship last year, where he had to be put on a stretcher and given oxygen after suffering from superventricular tachycardia,

a condition that causes rapid beating of the heart and mimics the symptoms of a heart attack.

Tataurangi was granted a nonexempt major medical extension for this year, but finished 23rd at Q-School to earn full exempt status. He had surgery this year to fix his heart condition, and his golf game also has improved. He came to Vegas 77th on the money list with seven top-25 finishes, including three top 10s.

“This caps a great year,” he said. “To win this year is memorable.”

Especially when he didn’t think he had a chance.

– Staff and wire reports

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