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    • Thorpe Never Trails

    The Press Democrat by: Bruce Meadows

    SANTA ROSA, Calif. -- There were some prophecies fufilled Sunday afternoon at the Sonoma Golf Club. Jim Thorpe predicted Saturday it would take 20-under par to capture the Charles Schwab Cup Championship. Then he went out and did it. And Sunday's runner-up, Tom Watson, also made a prediction Saturday that it would come down to the par-5 holes at crunch time. He was right, too.

    Thorpe, who struggled at times early Sunday while Watson tried to force the issue, shot a 4-under-par 32 on the back nine, including a dramatic eagle putt on the par-5 16th hole that gave him the cushion he needed.

    "To play against the best and beat the best is really special," Thorpe said. "I pushed myself to the limit, maybe more than I ever had before."

    Watson, the tournament's defending champion, finished at 17-under par, which guaranteed him the 2003 Champions Tour money title. He also won the Charles Schwab Cup points title and a $1 million annuity spread over the next 10 years. When he was presented the Charles Schwab Cup, he announced the money from the annuity would be going toward ALS research. Watson's long-time caddie, Bruce Edwards, is afflicted with ALS, an incurable disease known more commonly as Lou Gehrig's disease.

    Thorpe vaulted from sixth to second on the Charles Schwab Cup points list to pick up a $500,000 annuity in addition to his $440,000 check for first place, his biggest-ever payday.

    "At 54, I'm making more money than I ever imagined," Thorpe said. "To live the life I live, I've got to be the luckiest man walking."

    Tom Kite shot 67 to finish third in a field of the top-30 money leaders on the Champions Tour. Gil Morgan (66), Hale Irwin (68) and Tom Jenkins (71) tied for fourth at 274. The best round of the day was Doug Tewell's 7-under-par 65, with Tom Purtzer and Des Smyth checking in with 66s.

    Thorpe began the day with a four-shot lead over Watson, three better than Jenkins. Watson had said Saturday that it was Thorpe's tournament to win or lose. For a while, it looked like Thorpe was opting for the second alternative. Watson kept the pressure on and Thorpe, who had a first-round 63, wasn't making much happen.

    "He really played better than me, but he was missing every putt," Watson said. "It looked like Jim would leave the door open -- until 16."

    Thorpe missed a 3-foot birdie putt on the first hole while Watson birdied from 6 feet. Thorpe went on to miss 8-foot birdie attempts on Nos. 2 and 4 and also couldn't convert birdie chances inside 15 feet on three other holes.

    Watson finally got within a stroke at 16 under with a birdie on the 13th hole when he hit a 4-wood on the green at the par 5 and two-putted from 70 feet. The turning point was the 16th hole, a 541-yard, dogleg left par 5. Watson, Thorpe and Jenkins all hit their second shots short and left of the green. But Watson and Jenkins had to chip the ball.

    "I got great reads from both of them," said Thorpe. "I was just hoping I could putt it."

    Thorpe's ball ended up on the fringe so he opted for the putter, rolling it 67 feet and into the cup. "Normally that's a putt you're trying to lag, but Jenkin's gave me a great read," said Thorpe.

    Thorpe, who claimed his seventh Champions Tour victory, slammed the door on the 17th, a 140-yard par 3. Watson, trailing by two shots, watched his 18-foot putt roll in, around and then out of the cup. Thorpe then stepped up and knocked in his 10-footer for birdie and a three-stroke lead.

    "If Tom had made his putt, I really don't know if I would have made mine." said Thorpe. "It did make things alot more comfortable on the 18th tee."

    "Jim deserved it," said Watson. "He didn't putt well most of the day, but he had it when he needed it."

    Thorpe said Watson came up to him on the 18th fairway to congragulate him on his victory. "He could have been mad he lost, but that's not Tom Watson," said Thorpe. "He told me I had the shots when I needed them most. That means a lot to me."