Coceres wins WorldCom Classic in playoff

Monday, April 16th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, South Carolina (AP) - Jose Coceres became the first Argentine in 33 years to win on the PGA tour, defeating Billy Mayfair in a playoff Monday at the WorldCom Classic. Coceres missed a short par putt for victory on the 18th, then saved par twice - from a bunker on the 17th and a marsh alongside the closing lighthouse hole.

``It was always my thought that I was going to win this tournament, but not with such a high degree of difficulty,'' Coceres said through an interpreter.

Coceres and Mayfair played two playoff holes Sunday before darkness forced a postponement until the next day.

The Argentine earned dlrs 630,000 and a two-year tour exemption. He has 60 days to join the tour.

After Mayfair missed a 6-footer for par the second time the pair played No. 18 on Monday, Coceres rolled in his 5-footer for par. He punched the air to the cheers of an unusually large crowd on a cool morning.

Coceres held up a sign to the stands - he hand lettered it at 5:30 a.m. on a borrowed pillowcase - that said, ``For my family and my friends and for all the Argentineans, a million thanks.''

Mayfair, who won the 1998 Nissan Open over Tiger Woods in a playoff, had his chances, too.

He hit a 4-iron to about 15 feet (4.5 meters) on the par-3 17th, but missed the straight birdie putt. Coceres flubbed a chip from the bunker alongside the green to the fringe, then stuck the 12-footer to keep the playoff going one more hole.

Coceres hit a low liner that moved left the final time the two played the 18th, landing in a marshy hazard. But his chip was true, settling about 5 feet (1.5 meters) away. Mayfair was on the green in two about 25 feet (7.5 meters) away.

Mayfair, who said he was tentative with the putt on No. 17, blasted his attempt on the 18th about 6 feet (1.8 meters) beyond. He missed the par putt coming back.

Coceres looked ready to win on the duo's first hole. But his putt of less than three feet for par did not go in. Mayfair made bogey after missing a 6-footer.

Coceres became the first Argentine to win on the PGA Tour since Roberto De Vicenzo, best known for signing an incorrect Masters scorecard in 1968, won the Houston event a month after his Augusta error.

The 37-year-old Coceres doesn't expect to equal De Vicenzo's popularity in their golf-crazy homeland, but ``I put my little two cents here or there, but this is going to change quite a bit, I am sure. It has changed my life 100 percent.''

The 43-minute playoff capped a wild finish at Harbour Town Golf Links, where both Coceres and Mayfair had chances to win Sunday.

Mayfair had birdies on the fifth, sixth and eighth holes and was at 13 under, two shots ahead of a faltering Coceres. Then Mayfair drove out of bounds on the par-4 11th, leading to a double bogey.

Both players, though, made the critical shots down the stretch. Mayfair was the first to 11 under when he rolled in a 30-footer for birdie on No. 16. Then he saved par from a back bunker with a 15-foot (4.5-meter) putt on the 18th to stay there.

Coceres hit a wedge to 2 feet (0.6 meters) on the 16th hole for a birdie to catch Mayfair.

The two agreed not to move to the third playoff hole, the 18th, even though about 15 minutes of light remained.

It was the first Monday finish at Harbour Town since Doug Tewell beat Jerry Pate in a playoff in 1980.