Ames wins Western Open for first PGA Tour title

Monday, July 5th 2004, 1:03 pm
By: News On 6

LEMONT, Ill. (AP) _ Stephen Ames' first PGA Tour victory was well worth the wait.

Ending a quest that began almost 20 years ago and carried him from the beaches of Trinidad and Tobago to snowbound Calgary, Alberta, Ames won the Western Open on Sunday.

``I just had to wait for it to happen,'' he said. ``And this week it happened.''

Just the way he promised.

Ames' two young sons, Ryan and Justin, hadn't been with their father on tour since the end of January. When they rejoined him this week, he sat each of them down and made a promise.

``I told them, 'Guys, I'm going to win this week for you,''' Ames recalled.

He shot a 1-under 70 to finish at 10-under 274, beating Steve Lowery (70) by two strokes.

Tiger Woods couldn't get his putts to fall and never made a run at the leaders. He shot an even-par 71 to tie for seventh. Still, it was quite the comeback for a guy who flirted with missing the cut Friday.

``I just didn't get the ball close,'' Woods said. ``I was putting well, but when you've got 20-, 30-footers, it's hard to make a run at the leaders.''

Already ahead by three strokes, Ames knew he had the tournament wrapped up when he made a dazzling par save on the 16th. From the greenside rough, he chipped within 10 feet and made the putt.

As he walked the final few holes, Ames struggled to contain his emotions. A thousand things were racing through his mind, thoughts that had built up over the years.

``I was trying to hold myself back from thinking forward,'' he said. ``What I was going to say in my speech. What I was going to say to you guys when I was talking to you. My boys and my wife running out there to give me a hug and a kiss and stuff like that.

``Those things were coming into my mind, and I had to completely throw them out and focus on what I was doing.''

But after waiting this long _ 166 career starts _ for victory, Ames can be allowed a few indulgences.

The first touring pro to come out of Trinidad and Tobago, he turned pro in 1987 and played on what's now the Nationwide Tour from 1990-92. He ran into visa problems after misrepresenting to U.S. immigration authorities, and spent the next four seasons playing mostly in Europe.

Ames finally played his first PGA Tour event in 1996 and joined the tour full-time in 1998, though more visa problems idled him for the first six months of 1999. He's played at least 25 events each year since then, but the closest he'd come to a victory was a second-place finish in the 2002 Players Championship.

``My belief in winning a golf tournament was always that I had to have the perfect golf swing, and it's not the perfect golf swing,'' Ames said. ``I had to believe that my golf swing was good enough to win out here.''

His results earlier this year finally convinced him. He had eight top-10 finishes in 16 events, including six of his previous seven starts. He could never quite get that first career victory, though, with his best finish this year a third in the Colonial.

But Ames knew it was only a matter of time.

He began Sunday tied with Mark Hensby with a one-stroke lead. He lost a stroke early on the par-4 third, losing his concentration when a marshal yelled at fans to stop walking while Ames was in his backswing.

The ball landed behind a tree, and Ames put his next shot into a trap, then two-putted for a bogey. But with the wind swirling around Cog Hill Golf Club and making birdies a rare sight, Ames knew he still had a chance if he stayed patient.

``The day is long, and there's a lot of holes to play,'' he said.

Sure enough, he tied Lowery for the lead on the par-3 12th, putting his tee shot within 5 feet of the pin.

A few minutes later, Lowery fell out of contention. He drove into thick rough behind traps on the par-4 13th, and had little choice but to lay up. His third shot landed in more rough, this time on the right side of the green. He had a nice chip shot, but it rolled about 8 feet past the hole.

His bogey putt then ran to the edge of the cup and hung on the lip, refusing to drop.

``I played well all day, but you need to come back and make a couple birdies,'' Lowery said. ``I just couldn't do it.''

Alone at the top, all Ames had to do was close it out. He earned $864,000, bringing his season earnings to a career-high $2.75 million.

``When I get home, they're going to be partying in Calgary,'' said Ames, who became a Canadian citizen last December. ``And I'm sure they're partying in Trinidad.