© St. Petersburg Times, published October 22, 2001
LAKE BUENA VISTA -- No matter how much money a golfer has made in his career, he doesn't take too kindly to simply throwing cash away. That, in essence, is what Paul Azinger did on the 18th hole Sunday.
Starting the final round of the National Car Rental Golf Classic nine behind leader Jose Coceres, the Bradenton resident shot 6-under-par 30 on the front nine and added more birdies at the 10th and 13th holes to pull into contention.
But that's where he stood, 18 under, when he got to No. 18 and inexplicably hooked his tee shot, leading to double bogey.
"I'm a little bitter right now," Azinger said after signing his scorecard. "I hit my first hook of the tournament. I don't know where it came from. I had no drop (and had to take a penalty). That was a $50,000 or $60,000 swing."
Had he parred the hole, he would have finished at 18 under, tied for sixth and earned about $99,000. Instead he dropped to 16 under, tied for 16th, and earned $51,000. It was the only double bogey of the day at the 18th and just the third of the tournament.
"I thought I had to get to 21 under to win," he said. "I had to shoot 31 on the back. But I wasn't thinking about winning. The scores are so low here. I'm sitting there 18 under and I'm in fourth place. I was just trying to shoot as low as I could. I could have shot 61. I had a couple of putts that got away that made a difference in momentum."
Azinger hurt his chances of making the Tour Championship in two weeks. Entering the weekend, Azinger was 36th on the money list, with the top 30 qualifying for the tournament in Houston. He remained at 36th with $1,463,117.
TIGER RETURNS: Tiger Woods shot a final-round 69 to tie for 16th. Woods, who was playing for the first time in five weeks, has just one top 10 in his past seven tournaments since the U.S. Open: a win at the NEC Invitational.
"I played halfway decent this week," Woods said. "I was pleased with shooting 16 under after taking as much time as I have taken off. It's just that guys are going so low out here. ... I was just not able to do it."
NOTES: Despite a lackluster showing, Woods' new instructional book, How I Play Golf, will be ranked No. 1 on the next Wall Street Journal and Publisher's Weekly nonfiction best-seller list, according to his management company, and is third on USA Today's overall sales list. ... With a final-round 67, Clearwater's John Huston tied for 16th, his best finish since a tie for 18th at the Honda Classic in March. ... Tampa's Woody Austin moved into the top 125 on the money list by finishing tied for 16th and earning $51,000.