Tue, May 20, 2008 - Page 20 News List

Japan’s Ryuji Imada wins first US PGA title

AFP , DULUTH, GEORGIA

Ryuji Imada of Japan reacts after sinking a putt for par on the 18th hole to win the AT&T Classic in a playoff against Kenny Perry in Duluth, Georgia, on Sunday.

PHOTO: AP

Japan’s Ryuji Imada won his first PGA Tour title on Sunday, sinking a four-foot par putt on the first playoff hole to beat American Kenny Perry and win the US$5.5 million AT&T Classic.

Perry found the water with his second stroke on the par-five 18th hole in the playoff and Imada, who lost a playoff here last year by sinking a ball, took advantage for a breakthrough win and a US$990,000 top prize.

“Well I never really believed in destiny but I’m starting to believe it,” Imada said. “It’s definitely an unbelievable feeling.”

Imada, 32, had finished second twice this season, eight strokes adrift of top-ranked Tiger Woods at the Buick Invitational and two behind Sean O’Hair in Tampa. He had won US$1,322,647 this season to rank 22nd on the money list.

“I’m just going to cherish this one and know I’m going to try to do my best in two weeks at Memorial, but nobody can take this one away from me,” Imada said.

The triumph brought Imada another dream come true — a chance to play in next year’s Masters.

“I have always dreamed about playing there since I was a kid, so I can’t wait until next year and see what it’s like at the Masters,” Imada said.

Imada and Perry each finished 72 holes on 15-under 273, with Imada making a birdie on the 18th hole in the last round to match Perry for the lead. The American followed with a par, sending them into extra holes.

In the playoff, Perry found the fairway off the tee, but splashed his second shot into the water.

“You’ve got to like how you’re doing. You’re leading,” Perry said. “I hit a beautiful five-wood. I had it hooking in there from right to left and — I never dreamed it — I must have been pumped up cause it hit the tree trunk and shot it across the green into the water.”

Imada, who found the rough with his first shot, hit a lay-up shy of the green and pitched 26 feet from the cup with his third shot.

“I was fortunate that my ball had a very good lie and also fortunate that Kenny had to play his second shot first,” Imada said. “It was very unfortunate that it hit the tree and it went in the water. It gave me another option, to lay-up and play smart and get my par or birdie the normal way.”

Perry dropped with the penalty and rolled his fourth shot 11 feet from the cup, giving himself the same shot from the opposite side of the green he had to win on the 72nd hole.

“I had the same putt from the same line opposite sides, so I figured it was going to do what it did coming from the other way and it didn’t,” Perry said.

Imada rolled his putt to win 4 feet past the cup, but Perry went past the hole on his par putt and Imada tapped in for the victory.

“I had about a 25, 30-foot putt, which I didn’t want to hit it that firm, but left myself about a four or five-footer,” Imada said. “I’m just so relieved that the last putt went in.”

Imada had fired a third-round 66, his lowest round of the year, to move into contention and followed with a 67 on Sunday to match Perry, who fired a 69 for the third day in a row.

Colombia’s Camilo Villegas birdied five of the last seven holes for a final-round 66 to finish third on 274, one stroke ahead of American Jonathan Byrd, who eagled the 18th to finish alone in fourth.

Also see: Finch makes a big splash as he wins Irish Open

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