Wilson Wins Honda Classic

Tuesday, March 6th 2007, 7:54 am
By: News On 6

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) _ Wisconsin native Mark Wilson was a math major at North Carolina and confesses that one of his favorite things is crossing off items on his to-do lists.

He can now erase the top entry on that sheet of goals.

Wilson, from Pewaukee, Wis., made a birdie to beat Jose Coceres on the third playoff hole and win the Honda Classic at PGA National on Monday, the 32-year-old player's first PGA Tour victory in 111 career tries. He won a four-man playoff that began Sunday, was interrupted by darkness, then ended when he hit from 10 feet on the par-3 17th hole.

``I didn't sleep very good last night at all just because I really wanted to finish it off here and win,'' he said.

He got into the playoff with some big putts Sunday: par from 45 feet on the 16th hole, par from 8 feet on the final regulation hole, then a 30-footer _ in near-dark conditions, remember _ on the playoff first hole.

Some of his competitors acknowledged buckling under pressure.

Wilson seemed cool the whole way.

``Maybe in these moments, I'm nervous,'' said Coceres, who also lost a playoff to Fred Funk last week at the tour's stop in Mexico. ``Mr. Wilson, he played very good.''

With the win, Wilson got a $990,000 winner's check, an exemption through the 2009 season and a reprieve from making an 11th consecutive trip to the tour's qualifying school. He also vaulted 179 spots to No. 86 in the world rankings. And, if he can stay in the top 10 on the money list, he has a chance at playing the Masters for the first time.

His caddie, Chris Jones, got two things: a nice cut of Wilson's earnings, and a huge sense of relief.

Wilson, Coceres, Boo Weekley _ who missed a 3-foot par putt Sunday on the 18th hole that would have given him his first career win _ and Camilo Villegas all finished the 72 regulation holes at 5-under 275. But Wilson's score included a two-stroke penalty from his round of 66 on Friday, after Jones made a major goof.

On the fifth tee Friday, Jones overheard Villegas and his caddie talking about club selection at that par-3 hole. Jones blurted out, ``It's an 18-degree,'' referring to the hybrid club that Wilson carries in his bag.

Offering advice to competitors like that is against the rules, and Wilson knew it. So he summoned a rules official at the next hole and docked himself two shots.

``I felt like I almost cost us this tournament Friday,'' said Jones, who cried after Friday's round and was fighting tears after Wilson got the win Monday. ``But he hung in there and knew I didn't mean to do it. It was just a mental error. ... A lot of guys wouldn't have even called it on themselves.''

If that's true, Wilson isn't one of them. The rule was one of the first things he discussed with Jones when he hired him to carry the bag.

``Part of me thought he was just upset with me for even making a big deal about it,'' Wilson said. ``But then I finally just put my arm around him and said, 'Hey, let's go; let's go play golf.' Camilo was a gentleman. He did the same thing. ... From there on, I just played some of the best golf of my life.''

On the second playoff hole _ the first one played Monday _ Wilson used that 18-degree hybrid to set up a putt that nearly ended the tournament. A 224-yard approach put him in birdie range at the par-4 10th, but he settled for par.

Weekley and Villegas weren't so lucky.

Weekley's drive landed in the left rough, buried so deeply he had no chance of reaching the green. He chopped the ball out, advancing it about 100 yards. His third shot hit 8 feet from the pin but spun backward, and his par try slipped past.

He walked to the front of the green, hands on hips, head bent, knowing his chance was gone.

``It's a learning experience. I'm disappointed in myself after yesterday, but that's golf, man,'' Weekley said. ``That just happens. ... Just a part of it.''

Villegas missed the 10th green to the left, but hit a great flop shot to within 4 feet. His par attempt, though, ducked beneath the hole, ending his day.

``I was feeling good over it. ... I wasn't shaking as much as I thought,'' Villegas said.

Coceres made his par putt, and he and Wilson headed to the par-3 17th, where each hit tee balls to about 10 feet. Wilson putted first, made his, and Coceres couldn't answer.

So about 45 minutes afterward, he settled into his chair in the interview room, then summed up five days of play in five words.

``It's been a weird week,'' he said.