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Underachiever Bateman finally breaks through

GRAND BLANC, Mich. (AP) — Brian Bateman enjoys relaxing with his pregnant wife at their new house, where he cooks about four nights a week, while collecting cook books and guitars.

What does he plan to do with the $882,000 check he earned Sunday at the Buick Open after winning for the first time on the PGA Tour?

"I'll invest in a few pots and pans," he said.

Before describing himself as a simple guy, Bateman said he has been a "tremendous underachiever" during his six seasons on the Tour.

He came to Warwick Hills 204th on the money list and became the improbable winner with a birdie on the final hole that broke a four-way tie.

"I feel a lot better now about my career," Bateman said.

His best finish previously was third before he closed with a 3-under-par 69 to finish 15-under 273 and win by a shot with the highest winning score at Warwick Hills since 1997.

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 Tour exemption and an invitation to the 2008 Masters.

"I've been out here for six years and I've only played in one major," said Bateman, referring to the 2004 PGA Championship. "I've been close to playing at Augusta."

The 34-year-old native and resident of Monroe, La., earned a check that surpassed 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 59th on the money list and 44th in FedEx Cup points.

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

Bateman's victory came in his 151st PGA Tour event.

"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 (home 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.

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) tied for second. Jim Furyk (70) and Scott Verplank (71) were in a group of five that were two shots behind Bateman.

The greens at Warwick Hills usually draw rave reviews, but dry conditions baked the greens and frustrated the field.

"I would say they're right there with the U.S. Open in that they're really crusty and firm and bumpy around the hole," Austin said.

While Bateman's final stroke will make the highlights on TV, a putt he made at No. 17 made the win possible. He made an 8-footer, avoiding a costly bogey, after missing the green on the par-3 hole.

"My putter really bailed me out," Bateman said.

For the first time since 1999, the Buick Open winner didn't play in the final group. Third-round leader Tom Pernice Jr. shot a 75, finishing in a tie for 20th at 10 under. Jesper Parnevik, who was also in the final group, didn't fare much better with a 73 and finished tied for 16th at 11-under.

Divots: John Daly, finishing a season-best 16th, attracted the largest gallery and it included one of his famous friends, musician Kid Rock, who invited Daly to stay at his Detroit-area house during the week. ... Bateman's winning score was the highest since Singh (15 under) won his first of three Buick Opens in 1997. ... Bateman became the eighth player to win his first PGA Tour event this year and the third straight, following Angel Cabrera at the U.S. Open and Hunter Mahan at the Travelers Championship. ... The previous three first-time winners at the Buick Open were Pernice (1999), Leonard (1996) and Austin (1995). ... Leonard and Gore finished in the top 10 for the first time this year. ... Furyk was under par for the 37th straight round at Warwick Hills, dating to 1997.

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