Ames earns a tough victory in the PGA Tour season finale

Stephen Ames, Children's Miracle Network Classic, Walt Disney World
David Cannon/Getty Images
Stephen Ames saved par from a bunker to avoid a playoff with Tim Clark.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — It had been 17 months since Stephen Ames last won on the PGA Tour.

He doesn't remember it being such a grind.

His last victory came at The Players Championship last year, where Ames made double bogey and still blew away the toughest field in golf by six shots at the TPC Sawgrass. This one came across the street from the Magic Kingdom on a resort course, where the sun cast silhouettes of Mickey Mouse ears that were atop sign posts.

"It was tough,'' Ames said.

He made it difficult on himself at the end Sunday at the Children's Miracle Network Classic, hitting into a bunker some 65 feet away from the hole with Tim Clark only one shot behind and warming up on the practice range in case of a playoff.

Ames finally ended the suspense by blasting out to 3 feet and making the par for a 4-under 68, ending an already successful season with a victory in the final PGA Tour event of the year.

Ames emerged from a crowded leaderboard with three straight birdies on the Magnolia Course to move past Scott Verplank and take a one-shot lead. But the final three holes stretch almost a mile, and Ames knew pars would be hard to find.

"If somebody had told you that you had to make three pars on the last day to win the event, you would, 'Yeah, that's going to be a tough feat just in itself.' And it was,'' Ames said.

Clark gave it his best shot.

He birdied six of the last 10 holes for a 66, the best score on the weekend at Disney, and went birdie-par-par that looked good until Ames came through in the clutch.

"I did everything I could, and it wasn't enough,'' Clark said.

Verplank, who shared the 54-hole lead with Ames, was tied with four holes to play until he couldn't match Ames' birdie on the 15th and three-putted the 16th from about 70 feet. He shot 71 and tied for third with Tag Ridings (70) and Robert Gamez (68).

The consolation prize went to Kevin Stadler, who tied for 15th to move into the top 125 and keep his card for next year. Stadler finished at No. 124, while Matthias Gronberg locked up the final spot with a tie for 37th.

Stadler began the Fall Series at No. 108 on the money list, but made only two cuts over the last six weeks and had dropped to No. 127. He played the final round knowing he was somewhere around the magic number.

"It's not life or death, but it's a hell of a big deal,'' Stadler said.

Justin Leonard was among those atop the leaderboard in the final round until a late bogey dropped him into a tie for sixth, leaving him short of the top 30 on the money list to earn a spot in the Masters.

Gamez had a 67-68 weekend and tied for third to earn $239,200, pushing him up to No. 132 on the money list. Gamez and Jeff Gove at least moved inside the top 150, meaning they can skip the second stage of Q-school and at least have conditional status next year. Tripp Isenhour had a chance to join them, but he failed to make birdie in his round of 75.

Ames now settles into a long winter's nap, easy to do when a guy raised in the Caribbean (Trinidad & Tobago) moves to Calgary and becomes a Canadian citizen.

"It's a dry cold,'' he said. "It doesn't go through you. It hits you and bounces off.''

The golf courses in Calgary have been closed for a month now, so Ames decided to escape the chill one last time and play in the tour's season finale at Disney. It helped that his swing coach, Sean Foley, lives in Orlando, and Ames knew they could check on his swing.

It's not there yet, but getting pretty darn close.

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