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Furyk Flourishes, Wins Mercedes

For Jim Furyk, the situation could not have been better. He was in Hawaii, in the wind and in need of a comeback.

Playing for the first time since a freak wrist injury while tossing around a football, Furyk completed a four-stroke comeback Sunday by holing a 10-foot birdie putt on the 18th to win the Mercedes Championships by one stroke over Rory Sabbatini.

Sabbatini had a chance to force a playoff after lagging his 45-foot eagle putt within 3 feet. But his next one slid by on the left, with Sabbatini dropping his putter in shock.

"I feel bad for him," said Furyk, who closed with a 6-under 67 to finish at 18-under 274. "It was a tricky putt. It's not the way you want to see things happen, but I'm also happy for myself."

Furyk won for the sixth time in his career, and all of them have been at tournaments where wind is usually a factor twice in Hawaii, three times in Las Vegas and last year at Doral, where he made up a six-stroke deficit over the last seven holes.

This comeback wasn't as great, but no less impressive.

Furyk made a 60-foot eagle putt on the fifth hole to get into the mix, and kept his chances alive after two critical mistakes on the 16th a drive into the fairway bunker, and an approach that sailed over the green.

But he made a 12-foot par putt, then pulled ahead with his birdie on the 18th.

Ernie Els, who squandered away his chances with a 73 in the third round, missed five birdie putts inside 18 feet on the back nine. He failed to produce the magic of a year ago, when he matched eagles with Tiger Woods on the last hole to force a playoff, which Woods won.

This time, Els pulled his approach into the hazard and hung his head.

He finished with a 69 and tied for third with Masters champion Vijay Singh (71) at 276.

"I played good enough to win this week," Els said. "I just got in my own way."

Woods didn't have a role in this year's drama.

He got off to a shaky start in his first tournament of the new year, and never caught up. Woods closed with a bogey-free 69 and wound up at 280 in a tie for eighth.

"Not bad for coming out and really not playing a whole lot," Woods said. "Overall, I'm not too disappointed. A little bit of rust, and it showed. If I could have made a few more putts the first three days, I would have been right there."

Woods has gone four PGA Tour events without winning, not unusual except by the standard he has set over thpast two years. It's his longest spell on tour since he went seven tournaments between victories in early 1999.

While Woods was never really a factor, several others were.

Singh, David Duval, David Toms and John Huston all made a run for the lead until getting derailed at one point.

Toms was one stroke out of the lead until hitting into the hazard on No. 14 and taking a double bogey. He played the five holes in 4 over. Duval was haunted by a double bogey on No. 6, a 398-yard hole that can be reached from the tee. He finished at 279.

By the time the final two groups reached the 15th, it became a three-man race between Sabbatini, Furyk and Els.

Els gave himself plenty of chances on the back nine, but twice missed birdie putts of 10 feet and left two other 15-foot putts on the lip. He had to be aggressive on the closing hole, and it cost him.

Furyk squandered a chance at the par-5 15th when his 60-yard wedge shot caught the front of the green and spun back down the slope. Furyk, hands on hips, could only watch as the ball finally rolled to a stop about 10 yards in front of him. He hit a nice pitch to save par.

Nothing came easily to Sabbatini.

He trailed only once all day, when he pulled an approach into the bunker left of the pin on the 13th and missed a 6-foot par putt. But he didn't buckle.

After a 10-foot birdie putt on the 14th pulled him back into a tie with Furyk, Sabbatini drilled a 3-wood that never got much higher than 15 feet in the air and scooted up the slope and onto the green, leaving him a two-putt birdie and putting him back in the lead.

But not for long.

On the 16th, where he holed out with a 96-yard sand wedge in the third round, he came up short and chipped 5 feet past the hole. His par putt went 6 feet by, and he was thankful to get off the green with bogey.

He thought he had recovered sufficiently until the last putt trickled over the left side of the lip.

©2001 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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