feb25 Gay wins in mexico


Brian Gay's 8-year-old daughter had it on good authority that her father would earn his first PGA Tour victory Sunday.

The defending champ's 12-year-old son told her so Saturday night.

Although Gay didn't know about the prediction, he did a nice job making it hold up, shooting a 1-under 69 in the final round to win the Mayakoba Golf Classic by two shots over Steve Marino.

The PGA Tour's second annual visit south of the border became Gay's to lose when he closed the third round with birdies on five of the last six holes. He took a five-stroke lead into the final round and led by at least four throughout the first 16 holes Sunday. Marino moved a shot closer on each of the last two holes, but all it changed was the margin of victory.

"Even though I had a big lead, it was tough just trying to not make mistakes, you know, just trying to make pars and get the ball in the center of the green," Gay said.

In his 293rd career start, the 36-year-old Gay finally was a winner; only 12 active players have entered more events without breaking through. He's the first first-time winner on tour this year.

"It's been a long time, obviously, a lot of hard work," he said. "So this is really a big, big relief to finally do it."

Then again, Taylor Funk — whose dad, Fred, won the inaugural event — knew it was going to happen after Gay's birdie flurry Saturday. At the hotel pool a few hours later, he told Makinley Gay, "Your dad's going to win."

Makinley told her mom, Kimberly, who then decided to keep that story between them to avoid adding to the pressure Daddy already felt. That may have been a good idea considering Gay didn't exactly storm to victory on a hot, hardly windy day that seemed ideal for scoring low.

He was even through 10 holes, offsetting a pair of birdies with a pair of bogeys, but was still comfortably ahead because none of the other contenders made a move. He went back under par for the day with birdies on 11 and 13.

Marino, however, birdied 11, 13 and 14, getting within four strokes with four holes left.

Gay's tee shot on 16 went in the bunker and his chip was well short of the pin. If he was going to crack, this was going to be it. Instead, he saved par by sinking a putt from at least 30 feet. In a rare display of emotion, Gay even gave a little fist pump. He breathed a little easier when he got on the 17th green in two shots; although he three-putted, he still figured the tournament was his.

The notion really hit him as he walked toward the 18th green, receiving the traditional cheers for the champion.

"It was different than I thought it would be," Gay said. "Working so hard all day, I had a hard time just letting it go and really enjoying it."

Gay finished at 16-under 264, one stroke better than Funk's winning score last year, when Gay tied for 41st.

Marino, who closed with a 66, finished two strokes back. John Merrick, the leader after each of the first two rounds, and Matt Kuchar tied for third at 268.

"I just didn't really make enough putts to put any serious heat on Brian," said Marino, who was eighth here last year.

Crowd favorite Esteban Toledo of Mexico wasn't able to match his Saturday surge, shooting a 72 to tie for 11th.

Short off the tee but terrific with a putter, Gay never struggled for victories until moving up to golf's highest level. He's the only two-time winner of the SEC championship and he helped Florida win the national title in 1993. He won nine of 40 mini-tour starts in 1995, but didn't become a regular on the PGA Tour until 1999. Until this weekend, his best finish was a pair of ties for second.

One of those came at the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, which he's long considered his favorite tournament. Part of his affinity is for the members, who have practically adopted him because he was born in Fort Worth.

Alas, "Hogan's Alley" now moves to second on his list, behind Mayakoba and the 6,923-yard El Camaleon course designed by Greg Norman. After all, Gay shot the lowest round of his career (62, Saturday) and collected his biggest paycheck ($630,000, nearly double his previous best).

"I guess this has to be my favorite now that I won," Gay said, laughing.

The only downer might be that he didn't stare down the PGA Tour's best, as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and 62 others were at the Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona.

But to Gay, a win is a win. Like all other PGA Tour winners, he gets a spot in the champs-only Mercedes-Benz Championship in Hawaii next year and is exempt through 2010.

"It doesn't matter who was here or what's the purse or anything like that," he said. "It's just a matter of the fact that I was able to go out and do it and finally get a win."

He even has a new 100-pound limestone chameleon trophy to prove it.