Andres Romero wins first PGA Tour title at Zurich

Andres Romero wins first PGA Tour title at Zurich

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This was Romero's 12th career start on the PGA Tour.
Fred Vuich/SI

The arrival of April
means only one thing.
With apologies to the
Internal Revenue Service
and May flowers,
April is all about the Masters Tournament.

You may have missed this,
but the annual pilgrimage to Augusta
got a lot more interesting in the
past two weeks.

First, we learned at Doral that Tiger
Woods isn’t going to go New England
Patriots on us and win everything
on the regular-season
schedule. (We
were starting to wonder.) That’s partly
because some former top rivals who
had been missing in action finally reappeared
at Doral and look ready to
challenge the Great One anew, notably
Jim Furyk, Geoff Ogilvy, Retief Goosen
and Vijay Singh.

Second, Masters fever is beginning
to heat up because there’s a new player
on the block. You know how Masters champions tend
to be big hitters (like Tiger), superlative iron players
(like Tiger) and great putters
(like Tiger)? You’ve also
just summed up the elements of the game of Andres Romero, your new Zurich Classic of
New Orleans champion.

Romero had already earned an invite
to Augusta for his first Masters
even before his one-shot (13-under)
victory at TPC Louisiana. But his performance
was a reminder that he is
more than just the fun-size version of
fellow Argentine
Angel Cabrera, the
U.S. Open champ. Romero has top-five-
in-the-world potential. It’s no coincidence
that three months into his
rookie PGA Tour season, he scored his
first American W.

You may recall Romero as the man
who should’ve won last summer’s British
Open. He scorched Carnoustie for
10 birdies in the final round, but his
double-bogey, bogey finish (equal parts
bad luck and bad decisions) caused him
to miss the Padraig Harrington-Sergio Garcia
playoff by a stroke.

Was it a devastating loss? Hardly.

He won a European tour event in Germany the following
week. And that wasn’t just some torrid two-week
stretch. Romero had been in the mix at the British Open
the year before, too, eventually tying for eighth while Woods outdueled Chris
DiMarco
at Hoylake.

“He hits it beautiful,” says
Tour player James Driscoll,
who was paired with Romero
in the Zurich’s final two rounds.
“He’s fun to watch.”

Romero plays eye-opening
golf. He’s 5′ 8″ and about
145 pounds and he looks as
if he had just stepped out of
a junior high yearbook, but
he’ll turn 27 next month, and
he crushes the ball off the
tee. Romero was paired with
Woods in the Bridgestone
Invitational’s
first two rounds at
Firestone last August,
and after
watching him launch massive
drives during a practice round,
European tour player Graeme
Storm warned, “Tiger is in for
the shock of his life.”

After the rounds — Romero
shot a pair of 71s and would
tie for sixth, 10 shots behind
winner Woods — Tiger conceded
that Romero was definitely
longer with his irons
and probably longer off the tee.

And he was third in putting on
the Euro tour last year, which
means that Romero could be a
factor at Augusta National in
years to come.

Romero’s competition in
New Orleans included Presidents
Cup hero Woody Austin.
Needing a birdie on the
72nd to tie, Austin muffed
a utility-
club shot from the
rough, moving it only 20 feet,
causing even Austin to laugh
at himself. Forced to go for the
green, Austin hit the same club
again, this time into the pond
right of the green.

“I played
like a dog the last nine,” said
Austin, who is renowned for
his frequent self-loathing.
“When you’re in the lead and
play that poorly for nine holes,
you’re choking, and I’m not
afraid to admit it. I was puking
my guts out.”

Romero was introduced to
the game in his hometown of
Yerba Buena, as a caddie at a
nearby club, and was taught
to play by an uncle. “Mucho,
mucho talento,” said his countryman
Cabrera after Romero’s
run at Carnoustie.

Romero decided
to switch from the European
tour to the U.S. this year.
Why? “Too cold,” he said.

The decision has paid off.
He has conquered America,
in a way, and next week he’ll
play his first Masters. He
talked with other players, he
said, “and they recommend
me to especially practice the
greens; that’s the most important
thing.”

This week, those players who
don’t have a Masters invitation
but can get one by winning a
tournament have one last shot
in Houston. They’d love to end
up alongside Romero, practicing
the greens.