2006: Wilson win lets Lehman off hook

Castle Rock, Colo.

Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman came close to a decision that would have caused much debate.

Lehman lost to Dean Wilson on the second hole of a playoff Aug. 13 at The International. A victory by Lehman would have moved the captain to No. 7 in the standings with only this week’s PGA Championship remaining before the team is finalized. He was trying to become the first Ryder Cup captain to win a PGA Tour event during his term since Jack Nicklaus won the Masters in 1986.

Lehman, who will guide the U.S. team in Ireland next month to try to bring home the cup for the first time since 1999, said he had no intention of playing had he won: “My putting is just a little bit too erratic.”

For Wilson, he’s a Tour winner now. Not just Annika’s playing partner.

Wilson was paired with Sorenstam when she became the first woman in 58 years to play on the PGA Tour at the 2003 Colonial. After he and Lehman parred No. 18 in the playoff, Wilson earned his first Tour victory with a 6-foot birdie on No. 9.

Wilson, whose previous best finish was a tie for third at the Texas Valero Open, said playing with Sorenstam “was a great experience. But that’s what I always kept telling myself: ‘Dang it, I’ve got to win a tournament so I can be known for something else.’ ”

After Lehman barely missed a 30-foot putt for birdie, Wilson sank his to cap a long journey for the 36-year-old Kaneohe, Hawaii native.

“There is an internal battle that you have with trying to compete with everyone else on the mainland. When I said I wanted to (play on Tour) and that was my goal, it seems like I heard a lot of people saying it can’t be done. You can’t beat those guys, they’re so good,” Wilson said.

He wasn’t good enough in high school to get a college scholarship and wasn’t good enough at Brigham Young to jump right to the Tour after graduation. So, he took his game overseas, playing two years in Australia, two in Canada and four in Asia before qualifying for the Japanese tour, where he won a handful of tournaments.

“Finally got my Tour card here just four years ago at age 32,” Wilson said. “So it was quite a battle. It is just really satisfying to be here holding the trophy.”

Not to mention the $990,000 winner’s check.

Wilson becomes the first Hawaiian to win on Tour since David Ishii won the 1990 Hawaiian Open. He also earned a spot in the season-opening Mercedes Championships in Hawaii.

Wilson’s victory was worth 375 Ryder Cup team points, which moved him from 68th to 22nd, giving him an outside chance to earn a spot on Lehman’s 12-man team that plays Europe at The K Club Sept. 22-24 in Ireland. He’ll need a top-10 finish at this week’s PGA Championship at Medinah to have a chance. Lehman, meanwhile, jumped from 29th to 19th on the list.

“It’s no fun finishing second,” Lehman said. “You play to win.”

Putting did Lehman in on the par-5, 492-yard 17th hole in regulation, where he was short on an eagle putt that would have wrapped up his first victory since the 2000 Phoenix Open. Lehman hit a 5-iron to 15 feet and figured he had the 5-point eagle in his pocket.

“It looked so fast and it was so shiny going down the hill, and I hit a beautiful putt right on line and it came up about 4 inches short,” Lehman said. “I was quite shocked that I could leave that putt short.”

His tap-in for birdie tied him with Wilson at 34 points.

The International’s modified Stableford scoring system awards 5 points for eagles, 2 for birdies, nothing for pars, minus-1 for bogeys and minus-3 for double bogeys or worse.

“It’s a good thing I had this format this week,” said Wilson, who would have been 9 under in stroke play. Lehman would have won at 13 under.

Lehman and Wilson sank 2-foot putts on the 72nd hole. Steve Flesch nearly joined them in the playoff but missed a 12-foot birdie try on 18.

Flesch and Daisuke Maruyama tied for third with 32 points, followed by Stewart Cink with 31. Cink made the big move in the Ryder Cup standings going from No. 20 to No. 12. The top 10 remained the same (see points list, p28).

Next year, The International moves to July 4 weekend, a change that tournament founder Jack Vickers hopes will attract Tiger Woods to Castle Pines for the first time since 1999.

Ernie Els, however, said some overseas players, including himself, will find it hard to come back to the majestic mountain course.

“It’s going to help the American players. It’s going to hurt the international players because that time of the year we’ve got some big tournaments in Europe,” Els said.

One player sure to be back is Wilson.

– Staff and wire reports

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