2005: Faxon drives home a winner at Buick

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Cromwell, Conn.

Brad Faxon thought he might be headed home after two rather uneventful rounds to open the Buick Championship. But luckily he made the 36-hole cut on the number, then he went back to work on the weekend.

Boy, did he go to work.

Two days later, when he finally did depart the players’ parking lot one last time at the TPC at River Highlands, Faxon had the champion’s trophy in tow, and a new Buick to get it home.

Following weekend rounds of 65-61 – the latter tying the course record – Faxon rolled in a 3-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole Aug. 28 to defeat South African Tjaart van der Walt and earn his first victory since 2001.

Faxon’s 9-under 61 set a career low, and paved the way for the eighth victory of his career, earning him $774,000. His weekend total (126) marked the lowest consecutive rounds on the PGA Tour since Phil Mickelson’s 60-66 during the second and third rounds of the FBR Open in February.

For Faxon, the victory came close to home. The Rhode Islander has been a mainstay at this New England stop, appearing 22 times, though his previous best finish had been eighth place. While many players start taking it easy at this juncture of the Tour season, Faxon jokes he has “back-to-back majors” – that is, the Buick Championship in Connecticut and the Deutsche Bank Championship in Norton, Mass., about 25 minutes from his home.

“People get excited about this tournament and I love playing close to home,” said Faxon, 44. “Nobody on Tour would ever tell you anything differently. My father came today, my aunt, my uncle, my cousins are here. Great friends are here. It’s just awesome.”

Van der Walt closed by shooting 64 and birdied the final two holes of regulation to tie Faxon at 14-under 266. Third-rounder leader Justin Rose (69) finished one stroke out of the playoff, while former British Open champion Ben Curtis (69), Jerry Kelly (66) and U.S. Walker Cup team member Michael Putnam – who had a closing 63 in his first event as a pro – finished 12 under.

Putnam had been at Merion in Philadelphia preparing for the U.S. Amateur eight days earlier when he was told he received a sponsor exemption to the Buick Championship. So he turned pro, caught a train, headed to Connecticut and earned $177,733 in his Tour debut. His top-10 finish also puts him in the field at this week’s Deutsche Bank Championship.

Faxon thought he would be home sooner than later earlier in the week. He was back in his hotel room packing Friday afternoon while waiting to hear if he made the cut, which he ended up making on the number (140).

“This was really kind of out of the blue,” he said. “The first two days I played OK. Then something happened yesterday (Saturday) where all the putts started going in.”

Both Faxon and van der Walt – whose best finish in 10 starts this season had been a tie for 50th at the Buick Open – saved some of their best for last.

In the playoff, Faxon drove into a left fairway bunker at the 434-yard 18th hole and had 169 yards to the flag. He stuck his 7-iron approach to 3 feet. Van der Walt, unflappable all week, answered with an approach from 134 yards that struck the flag and finished 9 feet away. The players high-fived each other as they walked up the 18th fairway to a rousing ovation.

Van der Walt’s birdie attempt drifted right of the cup, and he could only watch as one of the Tour’s top putters buried his birdie attempt for the victory.

Van der Walt was playing on a medical exemption after a wrist injury limited him to 12 events in 2004, his rookie season. He needed to earn a little more than $448,000 over his next seven tournaments to keep his card. No worries now for the 30-year-old, who pocketed $464,400 for finishing second.

“I guess now I can play a little more,” van der Walt said. “You work so hard to get out here and then you get hurt. It’s not a nice feeling. The (Tour) was nice enough to work with me on a major medical, and that’s where I am now.”

The field played under drizzly conditions most of the final round and the rain-softened greens produced some low numbers early. That allowed several players to catch Rose, who began the day with a one-stroke lead at 12 under. Rose sputtered most of the day, then put together a late run with birdies on two of the last four holes.

“I knew I had to go out and play a good round and make it mine,” Rose said. “Guys are shooting 61 and 64 from behind, so I needed to keep it moving forward.”

Faxon has been playing on an injured right knee nearly for two years.

He planned to have surgery in two weeks to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Now it seems, that may have to wait. The victory qualifies him to play in the 2006 season-opening Mercedes Championships in Hawaii.

“My wife says if we don’t go to Kapalua, I’m going to kill you,” he said. “So what do you think?”

– Staff and wire reports

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