Chris Smith Wins Buick Classic

Monday, June 10th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HARRISON, N.Y. (AP) _ Beth Smith hoped to surprise husband Chris with a last-minute trip to Westchester Country Club.

He ruined the suspense with some nifty detective work, but she got exactly what she came for, looking on as he won the Buick Classic for his first PGA Tour title.

``This is the first time I've ever done something like this,'' she said. ``I really wanted to be here. ... This is just something he wanted forever and ever. He's worked so hard.''

When she talked to her husband Sunday morning, she told him she was driving home from her sister's house in Chicago.

``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.'''

The 33-year-old former Ohio State player shot a 1-under 70 for a 12-under 272 total and a two-stroke victory over three players. He earned $630,000 and 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 tour's ninth first-time winner this year, Smith hit only four of 14 fairways, but still managed to reach 14 greens in regulation. He played the three par-5s in 1-over 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 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.

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, offsetting three birdies with three bogeys.

He flirted with trouble on No. 11 when his 5-wood shot 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 straight 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 7 feet for a bogey that left him three strokes behind after Smith's birdie at 16.

``There's no way I should have lost the tournament,'' he said. ``I don't like the back nine at all. Where they put the pins is ludicrous.''

The qualifying 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, birdied No. 14 to match Smith at 11 under, but bogeyed the next two holes. He had six bogeys, six birdies and six pars.

``I had too many unforced errors,'' Gossett said. ``I'm still pleased with myself that I didn't throw in the towel.''