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Birdie on 18 gives Bateman first PGA tour win

Brian Bateman
Gary Malerba/AP
Brian Bateman shot 69 Sunday.

GRAND BLANC, Mich. (AP) — Brian Bateman's knees buckled. He tossed his putter in the air and pumped his fists.

His long wait for a PGA Tour victory ended with a birdie on the last hole Sunday at the Buick Open, breaking a four-way tie and making him the improbable winner.

"It seemed like it took forever to get to the hole," Bateman said of the slow-rolling putt that broke slightly from right to left. "Then, I just went blank and threw my hands up and said, 'Man, I finally did it.'"

Bateman entered his 151st PGA Tour event 204th on the money list in his sixth year with the world's best golfers.

His best previous finish was third before he closed with a 3 under to finish 15-under 273 and win by a shot with the highest winning score at Warwick Hills since 1997.

"Every player from Tiger Woods to Brian Bateman has to win their first one," he said.

Bateman's chances of winning were boosted when Woods and Vijay Singh didn't make their usual appearance.

Woods (with his wife and baby) and Singh (resting a sore elbow) didn't play at the Buick Open for the first time since 2001 after combining to win four of the previous five.

That might've diminished the Buick Open title for some players, but not for Bateman.

The 34-year-old native and resident of Monroe, La., earned an $882,000 check - surpassing his total earnings in all but one of his previous five years on the PGA Tour. He made just more than $900,000 in 2004, when he finished a career-best 86th on the money list.

Bateman shot up to 59 on the money list and 44th in FedEx Cup points.

A perfect drive and approach at No. 18 - the tournament's third-toughest hole - set Bateman up for his 12-footer that kept him out of a playoff, earned him a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour and an invitation to the 2008 Masters.

"It's a life-changing week," he said. "A life-changing putt."

In a tournament that started in 1958, Bateman was just the second player to birdie 18 for a one-shot victory. Rocco Mediate did it in 2000.

"I teared up in the fairway on 18, knowing I was finally giving myself a chance," he said.

Jason Gore (67), Justin Leonard (67) and Woody Austin (69) finished tied for second. Jim Furyk (70) and Scott Verplank (71) were in a group of five that were two shots behind Bateman.

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