- The Washington Times - Monday, April 20, 2009

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (AP) - Brian Gay’s taking next week off. After what he did at Harbour Town Golf Links, he might want to reconsider.

Gay won his second PGA Tour title in a record-breaking show Sunday at the Verizon Heritage.

He shot a 7-under 64 Sunday to set tournament marks for scoring (20-under 264), margin of victory (10 strokes) and fewest bogeys over 72 holes (two).

It’s the latest plateau for the 37-year-old Gay, who toiled for more than a decade before notching his first career win in his 293rd start.

“I’ve been moving, kind of going, up, up, up, the last three years,” Gay said.

And Gay thinks things could get even better.

Gay’s win at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico last year propelled him to a career year with a record high of more than $2.2 million in prize money.

Gay says he’s ready for his latest triumph to push him to bigger things. He “played a lot better than my results, and I just came here and blew it out,” he said. “So it was nice.”

Future success figured to come easily for Gay, the former Florida Gator who remains the only player to win two Southeastern Conference championships. He made the Walker Cup team in 1993.

Gay didn’t make the tour until 1999 and had just 17 top 10s over his first nine seasons.

He finally broke through at Mayakoba. But bad luck for Gay, that triumph came the same weekend Tiger Woods’ finished off the field at the World Golf Championships’ Match Play event.

“Yeah, it’s a bit of validation,” Gay said.

It was the ninth time since 1970 a player won by double digit strokes, according to the PGA Tour, and the largest margin of victory since Phil Mickelson won the 2006 BellSouth Classic by 13 strokes.

Gay bested Loren Roberts’ mark of 19 under in winning the 1996 Verizon Heritage. Gay’s 10-shot edge over Luke Donald (66) and Briny Baird (68) shattered the seven strokes five-time champ Davis Love won by in 1998.

Besides a $1.026 million first prize, Gay earned a spot in next year’s Masters, something he also didn’t get with the Mayakoba victory. It will be his first time at Augusta National.

“I’ve had a lot of heartache not getting in that tournament, winning (and) not getting in, and missing by one spot on the money list two times,” he said. “I just figured, who cares? What’s going to happen is going to happen, just go play golf.”

Gay moved into the lead Friday and carried a three-stroke margin over Tim Wilkinson into the final round. Gay’s game plan? Don’t do what he did at Mayakoba, holding on despite some passive, wait-for-pars play.

“I told myself to keep my head down and keep plugging along,” Gay said. “I didn’t watch any (leader) boards. I didn’t watch anything.”

Soon enough, Gay was out of sight of the field.

He essentially wrapped things up two holes into the round _ and never gave the chasers a chance to climb back in.

Gay struck his approach to 10 feet on No. 1 for a birdie to increase the lead to four. A hole later, he rolled in a curling, uphill 57-footer for an eagle-3, raising his putter as the ball disappeared into the cup.

Playing partner Wilkinson, facing a 10-footer for birdie, never had a chance with the cheers for Gay still in his ears and the margin increased to six shots.

A birdie on the par-5 fifth gave Gay a seven-shot edge that no one could dent.

“Once he started like that, it was just sort of playing your own game and just get the best score possible,” Wilkinson said.

Gay moved into the lead Friday with a run of five straight birdies and continued his precise, accurate play throughout. He made only two bogeys _ one Friday and one Sunday _ and bettered Roberts’ low of three bogeys for the 1996 tournament.

The tour began keeping hole-by-hole scoring records in 1983.

“I’m happy for the guy. He’s playing phenomenal,” Baird said.

The only back-nine drama was if Gay could break Roberts’ scoring mark. It looked dicey when Gay posted a bogey on the 12th hole to fall back to 17-under.

Surely, with a large lead and victory all but wrapped up, Gay would pull back a bit the rest of the way.

Not this time.

Gay regained the lost stroke with a birdie on the next hole, then matched Roberts with a birdie on the par-5 15th.

A hole later on No. 16, Gay rolled in a 15-footer to reach 20 under.

On the final hole, Gay finally asked caddie Kip Henley who was in second and how far ahead he was. “He told me he didn’t know,” Gay smiled.

There’ll be no hiding Gay’s victory in two weeks when he returns at the Quail Hollow event in Charlotte, N.C.

“Glad it’s over,” he said. “It’s never as easy as it looks.”

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