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Leonard almost loses big lead, wins on final hole

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The thought slipped into Justin Leonard's
mind briefly as he stood over a 3½-foot putt for bogey on No. 18.
If he missed, he was going to a playoff.

That eight-stroke lead? Long gone, and his name would be in the
record book for blowing the biggest lead ever on the PGA Tour.
"I pretty quickly pushed that out of my mind," Leonard said.
The Texan sunk the putt, reached in the hole for the ball and
then collapsed onto the green in relief after pulling out a
one-stroke victory over David Toms in the St. Jude Classic on
Sunday, the first wire-to-wire win of his career and the second on
tour this year.
Starting with an eight-stroke lead, Leonard closed with a 3-over
73 to finish at 14-under 266 and earn his second title of the year
and 10th of his career.
"It's a good thing I had an eight-shot cushion because I was
able to stay out just enough in front of a great round by David,"
Leonard said.
It's the second time Leonard didn't record a birdie in his final
round and still won, the last at 2002 in Hilton Head when he became
the first tour winner to do that in seven years. He hit only five
of 18 greens in regulation Sunday.
Toms, the two-time defending champion here, helped spice up the
final holes with a 63 that included four birdies, an eagle and a
bogey on the back nine. He waited on the practice range and signed
autographs while waiting to see if Leonard would slip enough to
force a playoff.
"It made it interesting at least," Toms said.
Leonard gave himself a needed cushion when he chipped within 7
feet and made the putt for par on the par-4 17th.
"At that point after an eight-shot lead has diminished to two,
let's just get it in the house," Leonard said of his decision to
stay as far away as possible from the water lining the left side of
No. 18. "It wasn't going to be a pretty win no matter what I did
on 18. At that point, I didn't care. I just wanted to get it in."
He did just that as he hit his tee shot into a fairway bunker
and put his second shot 44 yards short of the green in the rough in
front of the grandstands. He took relief with a drop, then chipped
over a bunker within 34 feet and putted out for his bogey and the
victory.
Leonard, the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic winner in January, joined
some select company with Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson
and Kenny Perry as multiple winners on the tour this year. It's the
first time Leonard has won two events in a year since 1997 when he
took the Kemper Open and the British Open.
He pocketed the winner's $882,000 check by becoming only the
third wire-to-wire winner in the 48-year history of the tournament,
joining Bob Estes (2001) and Dave Hill (1967).
Fred Funk (68) was third at 271, while Davis Love III (68) and
Heath Slocum (71) tied for fourth at 272.
Toms, who pulled off his own six-stroke victory here last year,
ran out of holes in trying to become the first player on tour to
win the same event three straight years since Tiger Woods.
Toms birdied the par-4 10th to pull within seven strokes. Then
he bounced his tee shot on the par-3 11th off the back of the
island green and into the water for bogey.
He rebounded with birdies on Nos. 13 and 14 to get to 10 under --
the only person other than Leonard to get double digits below par.
Toms then eagled the par-5, 519-yard 16th by sinking a 7-foot putt,
and chipped in for birdie from 64 feet on No. 17.
Toms' only regret was missing a nearly 14-foot birdie putt on
No. 18 that could have forced the playoff and not getting shooting
lower on the front side.
"I got to 18 and obviously wanting to make birdie there and
finish it off. That's the only time I saw he was all the way back
down to 15 (under). I saw where he bogeyed 15. That's the only time
I knew I was within two. If I had made that putt, there was the
chance he could bogey 17 or 18, which he did," Toms said.
"I just didn't hit a very good putt there on the last hole,"
Toms said.

Divots
Leonard's 73 matches the highest final-round score by a
winner in the tournament. Toms did it last year and won by six
strokes, while Hill shot a 73 in 1967. ... Vijay Singh was the last
to win on tour despite not making a birdie in the final round
before Sunday when he won the 2004 PGA Championship in a playoff
that included Leonard. ... This is the 23rd time a player holding a
seven-stroke or better lead with 18 holes left has won a tour event
since 1970 and the third this year -- the most in any year since
1970. Mickelson did it at Pebble Beach, and Perry last week at
Colonial.