HUMBLE, Texas (AP) — Adam Scott held off defending champion Stuart Appleby in the Houston Open on Sunday, saving par with a 50-foot putt on the 72nd hole after hitting his tee shot into the water.
Scott shot a 6-under 66 to finish at 17 under, three strokes ahead of Appleby and third-round leader Bubba Watson.
Playing together, Scott led Appleby by one stroke as they stood on the 18th tee, but Scott pulled his tee shot into the pond that lines the left side of the 488-yard hole, the course’s most difficult.
Appleby drove into the fairway bunker, then immediately gave Scott a reprieve by hitting his approach into the water near the green.
Scott took his drop, hit his approach safely away from the water, then holed the par-saving putt. He pumped his fist, Tiger Woods-style, after the ball disappeared and the crowd roared.
Appleby had a double bogey to finish with a 69. Watson birdied the last hole for a 72.
Scott became the sixth Australian to win the event, joining Appleby, Bruce Devlin, Bruce Crampton, David Graham and Robert Allenby. Appleby and Crampton have won it twice and the eight victories by Australians are the most in any U.S. tour event. Only the British Open (9) has had more champions from Down Under.
Appleby and Scott started the day three shots behind Watson, but caught him with birdies on three of their first five holes. The Aussies matched each other shot for shot from there until Appleby bogeyed the par-3 14th and lost the lead for good.
Scott was the highest ranked player in the field, at No. 5, but said before the tournament that he was still rusty after taking a month off earlier this year. He tied for 61st at Doral and came to Houston thirsty for a competitive weekend to get him ready for next week’s Masters.
He got just the challenge he wanted from Appleby, down to the nail-biting finish, and prevailed for his first victory since the 2006 Tour Championship.
Appleby took the lead with a 15-foot birdie putt on the sixth. Scott then nearly holed his tee shot on the 168-yard seventh and tapped in to tie Appleby at 15 under.
Scott sank a 16-foot birdie putt on No. 12 to reach 16 under, the number Watson had before he bogeyed the last two holes of his third round.
Appleby parred the 12th, then rolled in a short birdie putt on the par-5 13th to keep pace with Scott. But Appleby bunkered his tee shot on the par-3 14th and bogeyed to drop one shot back again.
Scott hit two mammoth 3-woods to reach the 608-yard 15th hole and he two-putted to move to 17 under. Appleby laid up, then got up and down from 40 yards to stay one back.
Both players pushed their tee shots on the 204-yard 16th and lagged 60-footers. But Appleby missed his short par try and Scott made his to build his lead to two.
Appleby sank a 14-foot birdie on No. 17 to cut the lead to a single shot, setting up the tense finish.
Players were allowed to lift, clean and place their balls in the fairway for the second straight day after a morning thunderstorm dumped a half-inch of rain.
Storms on Saturday morning postponed the start of the third round for six hours and Watson was one of 27 players who came back Sunday morning to finish.
Watson bogeyed two of the three holes he played as the sun came up, but still shot an 8-under 64, which tied the course record set on Saturday by Johnson Wagner.
Wagner, a 27-year-old tour rookie, started the final round in a five-way tie at 11 under, along with Scott, Appleby, Houston resident Jeff Maggert and Paul Stankowski.
Divots: Robert Garrigus birdied four of the last five holes, capped by a 60-foot putt on the 18th hole, to shoot 65 and finish 12 under. … Tommy Armour III, who got into the tournament through a local qualifier last Monday, shot a final-round 66 and finished 13 under. The 47-year-old Armour earned his biggest paycheck ($264,000) since tying for second at the 2004 Chrysler Championship. … David Toms, who helped design the course with Rees Jones, finished 6 under.