PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Nothing has ever come easily for Steve Lowery.
He won his first PGA Tour title in a playoff with Rick Fehr in the 1994 International. He won six years later in the Southern Farm Bureau Classic, beating Skip Kendall with a 45-foot birdie putt from the fringe after birdieing three of his final six holes in regulation to force a playoff.
Winning the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on Sunday might have been the toughest of all.
It certainly was the sweetest.
Three shots behind Vijay Singh with four holes to play, Lowery caught the big Fijian with a 20-foot birdie putt on the 17th and a rare display of self-destruction by Singh, who bogeyed three straight holes along the back nine.
The playoff ended quickly, when Lowery played the famed 18th at Pebble Beach to near perfection – a drive into the fairway, laying up to a good yardage, a wedge that spun back to 7 feet and a putt that was good all the way.
“It’s not a matter of him giving it to you, it’s a matter of are you going to go out there and win it,” Lowery said. “I knew that going out there. He’s a tough competitor.”
Lowery closed with a 4-under 68, and at age 47, became the oldest champion in the 71-year history of the event.
In many respects, he was one of the more surprising winners.
He was No. 305 in the world ranking when he arrived on the Monterey Peninsula. He suffered a freak wrist injury last year that kept him out for three months and gave him temporary status this season. Most surprising of all is that Lowery was three shots behind Singh when he walked off the 14th tee.
Singh made three straight bogeys, and only a wedge into 2 feet on the 18th hole for birdie and a 71 allowed him one last chance in a playoff. That didn’t last long, as Singh found two more bunkers on the 18th in overtime and did well to make par.
Both players finished at 10-under 278.
“I let this one slip away,” Singh said. “I was in control, but those (bogeys) took a little air out of me. I still should have won the tournament. There’s no excuse for that.”
Lowery earned $1.08 million and a two-year exemption. He was on a minor medical extension because of the wrist injury and was given eight tournaments to earn $282,558 to keep his card the rest of the year.
He won this tournament with a birdie in a playoff, but he won’t forget his resiliency Saturday at Poppy Hills that helped him stay in the tournament, or two of the best shots in his career earlier Sunday.
A double bogey on the 10th hole at Poppy Hills in the third round sent him to 2 under for the tournament, losing ground in a hurry. He followed that with a 5-iron to a foot for birdie, only to make another double bogey on the par-5 12th.
“I had my amateur partner with me and he says, ‘You’re going to get it back.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m just trying to figure out some way to win the tournament,”’ Lowery said. “And I birdied five of the last six holes.
“That bounce-back after those double bogeys is what won the tournament for me.”
His shotmaking Sunday didn’t hurt.
Singh was cruising along the coast, with no one seemingly up for the challenge, when Lowery completed a 31 on the front nine with two of the best shots he could remember hitting.
One was a 4-iron over the cliffs and into the breeze to 10 feet for birdie on No. 8, followed by a 4-iron from 217 yards out of the bunker on the next hole that settled 20 feet away.
That put him one shot out of the lead, although Singh answered with a long iron to a foot for birdie on the ninth. No one imagined Singh would be in such a charitable mood, dropping three straight shots.
The first one was a sand wedge that spun down the slope off the 14th green. Then came a weak chip and a missed putt on the 15th. The ugliest was the 16th, when Singh hit a fairway metal into a bunker, hit over the green to another bunker and missed a 15-foot par putt from the edge of the fringe. He arrived on the 17th tee in time to see Lowery make birdie and take the lead.
And while Singh birdied the last hole to force the first playoff at Pebble Beach in 1992, he returned to collapse mode. His tee shot went into the right bunker, his second shot caught the top of the trap, leaving him a 4-iron to the green, and that one plugged into the sand.
Singh did well to make par.
“I didn’t think I was going to lose this,” Singh said. “I need to rethink and see what really went wrong.”
Dudley Hart, who started the final round tied with Singh, didn’t make a birdie until making three in a row at the end for a 72 to finish one shot out of the playoff. He tied for third with John Mallinger (65) and Corey Pavin (66).
Jason Day, the 20-year-old from Australia, finished alone in sixth after a 70.
Lowery suddenly has a new outlook on the rest of this season. He was so low on the pecking order that Lowery could only get into the opposite-field events, and likely would have missed the entire Florida swing. He was headed to Mexico in two weeks, then Puerto Rico at the end of March.
Now he’s going to Masters.
“It’s just amazing to be able to go back,” he said.
Amazing still was him winning at Pebble Beach, on a grand stage against a tough competitor, which he called the best win of his career.
“After seven years and winning on this course against Vijay and everything … it’s probably the most special,” Lowery said.