Brian Gay shot a four-under 66 in the final round.
Lance Murphey/AP
Monday, June 15, 2009

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — As a Southern boy, Brian Gay knew exactly what winning at Hilton Head in April meant: A trip to the 2010 Masters.

Having to win the final PGA Tour event before the U.S. Open to earn a trip to Bethpage Black? It's just not something he really thought about until clinching that berth with a wire-to-wire victory at the St. Jude Classic on Sunday.

``I played well and won, I knew I would go,'' Gay said.

So the man who had originally planned for a week off is changing his itinerary - and quickly.

``Right now I don't know if we're going home first or what we're going to do, whether we spend tomorrow traveling, going home and repacking,'' Gay said. ``Get to work on Tuesday I guess.''

Gay heads to New York with his third PGA title, having won twice in his last five events. He has a hot putter, needing only 100 putts and scoring in the 60s all four rounds with 66s in each of the final three. He beat David Toms and Bryce Molder by five strokes, removing all suspense with three of his six birdies over the first six holes.

``It was a pretty good golf tournament except for one guy stealing the show,'' said Toms, the tournament winner in 2003 and 2004.

Gay had an 18-under 262 total and the third-largest margin of victory in the event's 52-year history. Toms finished with a 65, and Molder had a 70. John Senden (64), Paul Goydos (68) and Robert Allenby (69) tied for fourth at 12 under.

``I didn't even get close to catching him,'' said Molder, who had his best finish on tour.

Phil Mickelson, in his first event since announcing wife Amy has breast cancer, and John Daly, returning from a six-month PGA Tour suspension, tied for 59th at 1 over. Mickelson closed with a 75, and Daly shot a 70.

Gay grabbed the $1,008,000 winner's check and became only the fourth wire-to-wire winner here and first since Justin Leonard in 2005.

He did it with his putter, rolling in his final putt from 5 feet for birdie on No. 18 to clinch his win. He celebrated with a fist pump, a high five with his caddie and hugs and kisses with his young daughters and wife. But his bigger putts came with a 20-footer on No. 4 and a 30-footer on No. 6. He also had a 17-footer on 9.

``The greens are perfect,'' Gay said. ``I love the Bermuda grass. You read them right, you make a lot of putts. Very true and grew up on it. I always enjoy putting on Bermuda.''

Gay played it safe with six straight pars on the back nine before his final birdie to earn a trip to a major where Gay proposed to his wife. That was in 1996 at Oakland Hills in Gay's only tour event at a time when he was working his way up the tours.

``That was fun,'' Gay recalled.

But Gay, a two-time All-American at Florida, missed the cut the last time the Open visited Bethpage. He's never been as long off the tee as his fellow competitors, and he finished last here in driving distance - averaging 265.8 off the tee.

``Straight will be good. Drive it straight. I think it'll be OK, but it's pretty long,'' Gay said.

Mickelson will be working on his putting before the Open starts after needing 120 in Memphis.

He spent the week trying to figure out how to play golf and deal with all the emotions resulting from his wife's illness. He accomplished that even if the results on course didn't. He started the final round 10 strokes behind Gay and had a round highlighted by a triple bogey.

``I needed to get a little bit of play in, see where my game was at and get back on the golf course in a competitive frame of mind if I was going to have a chance next week,'' Mickelson said. ``I'm looking forward to next week's U.S. Open.''

Six children treated at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital met him coming off the 18th green wearing shirts and a banner that read ``Thinking of Amy.'' The hospital is this event's lone charity.

Mickelson talked with the children and signed their shirts.

``These are some pretty cool kids going through something we're going to go through ourselves here in a few weeks,'' he said.

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