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Rookie Palmer charges to first PGA win

BOB HARIG
Published October 25, 2004

LAKE BUENA VISTA - It wasn't exactly Cherry Hills and the U.S. Open, and he wasn't hitching up his trousers and making the gallery swoon. But Palmer did charge to victory Sunday at the Funai Classic. Ryan Palmer, that is.

Nobody mistook him for the game's ultimate icon, Arnold Palmer, who won a tournament or two in his day with similar final-round exploits.

Most probably never heard of this Palmer.

But it was the type of round that could help Ryan Palmer make a name for himself.

Trailing by five strokes entering the final round at Walt Disney World's Magnolia course, Palmer shot 10-under-par 62 with birdies on four of the last five holes to cruise to a three-shot win, his first on the PGA Tour.

In the process, Palmer held off the game's hottest player, No. 1-ranked Vijay Singh, who finished with 67 and tied for second with Briny Baird.

"What an unbelievable day," said Palmer, who won $756,000 and secured a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour. "I got off to a fast start, birdied five of the first six holes. I had some things go my way. And I think that's what it takes to win out here.

"What an unbelievable feeling. This is something I'll cherish forever."

The 62 was the lowest final round by a winner in two years on the PGA Tour and propeled Palmer into this week's Chrysler Championship at Innisbrook. A rookie on the PGA Tour, Palmer, 28, who is from Grapevine, Texas, moved up from the Nationwide Tour after last year but his priority left him as the fifth alternate.

His top-10 showing, however, took care of that, and now Palmer, who jumped to 37th on the money list, has a chance to qualify for the season-ending Tour Championship by moving into the top 30.

Singh several times pulled within one shot of the lead and was just two back of Palmer with four holes to play after birdie at the 14th hole. But he hit a drive into a fairway bunker at No. 16 and hit his approach 50 feet from the hole, then three-putted to end his chances.

"If I had it to do again, I probably would hit a 3-wood off that tee and take the bunker out of play," Singh said. "But if I had hit a good drive the way I planned it, it would have been okay. And then I'm trying to make the putt there and ended up three-putting. But obviously Ryan played well. You can't take that away from him.

"I made a few mistakes but I played well. My game is coming back and I'm looking forward to next week."

Singh, 41, earned $369,600 and is within $175,000 of $10-million for the season. The Chrysler Championship has a $5-million purse, with $900,000 going to the winner. Singh also will be going for his ninth victory of the season at the Chrysler, where last year he finished second to Retief Goosen.

Palmer started the day five behind Baird and Tom Lehman, who for the third straight week took a share of the lead into the final round only to come up short. Lehman's final-round 72 left him tied for sixth, five shots back.

After a front-nine 31, Palmer matched it on the back for the lowest round of his career.

"To beat the No. 1 player in the world ... for a guy like to me ... he's pretty much been unstoppable," Palmer said. "It's a great feeling."

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