Durant Plays Way Into Masters

Actress Jane Alexander attends the Roundabout Theatre Company's Spring Gala 2006 at Pier Sixty, Chelsea Piers April 3, 2006 in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images) GETTY IMAGES/Evan Agostini

The best job Joe Durant could find nine years ago was stuffing golf clubs in boxes at a retail warehouse, so getting to the PGA Tour was quite a journey.

On Sunday, Durant completed another amazing turnaround a four-stroke comeback to win the Genuity Championship and an improbable invitation to the Masters.

Proving he doesn't need pristine conditions to play great golf, Durant closed with a 7-under 65 in fierce winds and even a few showers to become the first player since Tiger Woods last summer to win consecutive starts on the PGA Tour.

The real payoff was the $810,000 check, which gave him more money in two weeks than he had earned in his last four years combined, and enough to lead the PGA Tour money list and qualify for the Masters.

"Strange how things happen," Durant said.

Durant didn't even know that Doral was the cutoff for making the Masters, which takes the top three on the money list after this week. His only concern was making up four strokes on Mike Wier on a Blue Monster course that finally played like one.

His 65 was the best score of the day, seven strokes better than the course average in the final round. Durant played the first four holes in 4 under, including a 15-foot eagle on the first hole, and finally surged ahead with a brilliant 7-iron out of the bunker on No. 14 to about 10 feet for birdie.

Weir caught a couple of bad breaks in bunkers at the turn, played the back nine in 37 and closed with eight pars for a 71, two strokes back.

Vijay Singh, coming off two straight victories in Asia, had a 67 and finished at 274, along with Jeff Sluman (70) and Hal Sutton (72).

Durant became the first two-time winner on tour this year. Two weeks ago, he won the Bob Hope Classic with a record 36-under 324 over five days.

"I've always wanted to play the tour since I was 7 years old," he said. "To have played this well this year is beyond anything I would have imagined. The last couple of weeks have just been unbelievable for me."

As for the Masters?

That wasn't even on his radar screen. Durant only wanted to earn enough money to get into the Bay Hill Invitational. Now, he can book a trip to Augusta for the second time, hopefully with better results.

In 1999, Durant was recovering from cracked ribs and shot 86 in the first round.

"I wanted to geback there," Durant said. "I'm going to enjoy it a lot more."

He'll certainly have more confidence. Durant is 54-under-par in his last two tournaments, striking the ball great and putting better than ever.

Durant was still in shock as he talked about his last two tournaments, even reflecting on his time away from golf in 1991-92 when his attitude was sour. He took a job in the insurance business, but failed to sell a single policy.

Then he worked for golf retailer Edwin Watts, making $24,000 a year, working in the warehouse until he decided to give golf another try.

Good career move.

His score might not look as impressive as what he did in the desert, but it might have been even better. The wind blew palm fronds sideways on the weekend, showers came down on the 15th and 16th holes, and yet Durant closed with a 67-65.

That was the lowest score over the final 36 holes at Doral since Greg Norman also had a 132 on the weekend in 1993.

"He played terrific golf and did everything right," Sluman said. "In a wind like this, you've got to hit it solid. And he did."

Sunday's final round was moved up four hours because of approaching thunderstorms, but the wind gusted to 20 mph even in the morning.

Weir, trying to win for the third time on tour but first in the United States, stayed ahead and extended his lead to two strokes with a short birdie putt on No. 8.

But with two minor mistakes, he paid dearly.

His 5-iron into the par-3 ninth got caught in the wind and landed in the bunker with a plugged lie, leaving Weir little choice but to blast over the green and against the grandstand. After taking relief, he used his putter to go up 25 feet of a shaved slope and made a solid bogey with a 5-foot putt.

One hole later, the wind pushed his 3-wood off the tee into the face of the bunker, which required the left-handed Weir to plant his left foot in the sand and his right foot about 18 inches above the ball in the shaggy rough. Another bogey.

"To win a tournament, you've got to have a couple of breaks," Weir said. "I didn't get any, even though I played pretty well. I just didn't get much out of it. Obviously, Joe played a phenomenal round of golf in those conditions. My hat's off to him."

Durant took the outright lead with a two-putt birdie from the back fringe on the 603-yard 12th hole, then hit a shot that essentially gave him the tournament blasting out of the fairway bunker through a cross wind.

"One of the best shots I hit this week," he said.

Weir never made another birdie, and no one else challenged Durant.

Davis Love III, playing in the final group for the third straight tournament, never made up any ground against a three-stroke deficit. He closed with a 71 and finished five strokes back.

Divots: Durant ecame the third straight champion at Doral to trail going into the final round. Jim Furyk made up a three-stroke deficit last year, while Steve Elkington made up six strokes in the final round in 1999.
  • Stephen Ames, six strokes out of the lead, had to withdraw because of a rib injury. He received last-place money of $8,100, but it will not count toward the money list.
  • Steve Stricker, Brad Faxon and Toshi Izawa also secured spots in the Masters by finishing in the top 50 in the world ranking at the end of this week.


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