Leonard Wins WorldCom Classic

Sunday, April 21st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (AP) _ Justin Leonard survived some anxious moments Sunday to win the WorldCom Classic, a feat even he considered unlikely just days ago.

Leonard closed with a 2-over 73 for a 14-under 270 total, a stroke ahead of Heath Slocum and two in front of Phil Mickelson. Slocum had a 70 and Mickelson a 71.

But it wouldn't be Harbour Town for Leonard _ he hadn't never finished higher than 30th here in six appearances _ without some stomach-churning holes.

Leonard's fortunes at Harbour Town Golf Links looked to have changed for good as he set a 54-hole scoring record this week with rounds of 67, 64 and 66. And when playing partner Cameron Beckman double-bogeyed the par-4 third Sunday, Leonard was ahead by four shots on the field.

However, the birdies that were so plentiful through Saturday would not come to Leonard in the final round as he struggled to win his seventh PGA Tour title. He had 12 straight pars, some from amazing distances, to remain out front before his luck ran out.

Leonard drove into the trees off the 13th hole and took a bogey, dropping him into a tie at 15 under with Slocum. Then Leonard, known for making a 45-foot putt to clinch the 1999 Ryder Cup for the United States, missed a 2-footer for par on the next hole to give Slocum a lead.

``I was mad at myself when I missed that putt,'' Leonard said.

This time, though, it was Slocum, a 28-year-old who won three Buy.com Tour events last season, who buckled on Harbour Town's tight fairways, huge bunkers and tiny greens.

His sand shot to the 16th hole rolled about 40 feet past the pin. His par try was 7 feet short and he missed the putt coming back to fall to 13 under and a shot behind.

Leonard, who closed with four pars, did not give Slocum another chance.

``I just hit some good shots and played really solid those last three holes,'' Leonard said.

On No. 18, the famous lighthouse hole, Leonard got it up and down one last time from off the green to win the title and $720,000.

Leonard's round looked steady and resourceful most of the way as he routinely missed fairways and greens, then recovered with deft chips and smartly struck putts. On the third hole, he chipped to 5 feet from behind the green and saved par.

He was about 25 feet away on the par-3 fourth hole and again got down in two putts.

He had a 15-footer for par on the seventh hole and made it; a 12-footer on the 10th and made it; a 30-footer on the 11th and made it. He looked up to the sky and waved his cap at that one.

Slocum looked the least qualified to charge in front. He had consecutive birdies on the fifth and sixth holes to halve Leonard's four-stroke lead. Then added a birdie on the 12th hole to move within one.

``Except for one hole on 16, I played extremely well,'' Slocum said. ``The shots I missed, I made good recoveries. I made some good putts. I'm pleased with how I played.''

Mickelson, who began four shots behind, took himself out with bogeys on the sixth and ninth holes. But Lefty again got himself going with consecutive birdies on the 15th and 16th holes. His rally, though, was too little, too late to catch Leonard.