HARRISON, N.Y. -- Chris Smith began the biggest day of his
golf career by catching his wife in a lie.
The Buick Classic winner thought his wife Beth was driving home
to Indiana from Chicago, but she was actually at the Westchester
Country Club for the final round Sunday.
''An hour after I talked to her, this light bulb went off in my
head: 'I didn't hear the kids or her mom in the car,''' said Smith,
who was away from home the past six weeks.
''So I picked the phone up and called her and said, 'Where are
you?' She said, 'We're driving home.' I said, 'No Beth, where are
you?' And she said, 'At the golf course.'''
She got what she came for, looking on as her 33-year-old husband
won his first PGA Tour title, shooting a 1-under-par 70 for a
two-stroke victory. He had a 12-under 272 total, earned $630,000
and locked up a tour exemption through 2004.
''The funny thing is that I've played better before and not
gotten the job done,'' said Smith, in tears as he walked off the
18th green. ''I guess that's the crazy thing about this game.''
The long hitter, the tour's ninth first-time winner this year,
hit only four of 14 fairways, but still managed to reach 14 greens
in regulation. He played the three par-5s in 1-over Sunday after
making seven birdies in nine tries in the first three rounds.
''The pins were so tough and the course was playing so
difficult,'' said Smith, a five-time winner on the Buy.com Tour.
''I was hitting it all over the place, but I knew if I could get it
on the green I would be OK.''
David Gossett, Pat Perez and Loren Roberts tied for second, with
Perez shooting a 70 and Gossett and Roberts carding 71s. Stewart
Cink (68) and Ian Leggatt (71) finished three strokes back, and Tom
Lehman (68) and Jerry Kelly (71) followed at 8-under.
Smith began the round a stroke ahead of Roberts and Gossett
after playing 30 holes Saturday in 5-under. He was even par for the
first 14 holes Sunday, offsetting three birdies with three bogeys.
He flirted with trouble on No. 11 when his 5-wood hit a rock
near a creek 295 yards from the tee, but the ball bounced into the
left rough and he was able to save par.
Smith moved in front for good with a 15-foot birdie putt on the
15th after hitting a 304-yard drive through the dogleg on the
difficult 462-yard hole.
He began his six-week trip by missing three consecutive cuts, then
tied for 56th in the Memorial and showed a glimpse of his winning
form last week with a seventh-place tie in the Kemper Open. He also
played a U.S. Open qualifier this week, but failed to earn a spot.
''I'll probably be teeing it up on Thursday and Friday with my
two kids,'' he said. ''I've haven't been home for six weeks, so
I'll enjoy watching the Open on TV and being at home.''
Perez made a 20-foot chip on No. 16 to join Smith at 11-under,
but three-putted the 17th from seven feet for a bogey that left him
three strokes behind after Smith's birdie at 16.
''I'm not really happy right now,'' Perez said. ''There's no way
I should have lost the tournament.
''I don't like the back nine at all. Where they put the pins is
ludicrous. I can't believe where they put the pins.''
The qualifying school tournament winner also had a late meltdown at
Pebble Beach in February, closing with a triple bogey to finish
three strokes behind winner Matt Gogel.
Gossett, with sister Joni caddying, made a 16-foot birdie putt
on 14 to match Smith at 11-under, but bogeyed the next two holes.
The 23-year-old had six birdies and six bogeys.
''I had too many unforced errors,'' Gossett said. ''Still, I'm
making progress, especially in putting. That's what had been
holding me back. I'm pleased with myself that I didn't throw in the
Sergio Garcia, the 2001 winner with a tournament-record
16-under 268, shot a 71 to finish seven strokes back at 5-under
279. ... Ernie Els, the 1996 and 1997 winner, closed with a 74 -- his worst score in 28 rounds in the tournament -- for a 1-under 283.
He has a 68.79 average, the best in tournament history among
players with at least 12 rounds. Jack Nicklaus is second at 69.43
in 46 rounds. ... Retief Goosen, preparing for his U.S. Open title
defense at Bethpage State Park on Long Island, shot a 72 to finish
at 3-under. ... Phil Mickelson also was 3-under after a 71. ...
Former Georgia Tech star Bryce Molder earned $66,500 for a
12th-place tie to secure special temporary tour membership. He
passed the 150th position on the 2001 money list ($279,877) at
$290,600, and can accept an unlimited number of exemptions.