In 293rd PGA TOUR start, Gay gets his first victory

February 24, 2008
PGA TOUR staff

PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico (AP) -- Brian Gay's 8-year-old daughter had it on good authority that her father would earn his first PGA TOUR victory Sunday.

gay2.jpg

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.

In his 293rd career start, Gay finally was a winner; only 12 active players have entered more events without breaking through.

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.

More emotion came after he tapped in for par on 18, when his 4-year-old daughter Brantley ran onto the green to be the first to congratulate him. He then celebrated with Kimberly and Makinley.

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

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.

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 has been a regular on the PGA TOUR since 1999 without ever finishing higher than a tie 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.

Colonial's spot in his heart might be bumped aside by 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).

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 World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona.

Gay's best finishes on the PGA TOUR
Before Sunday, Brian Gay's best finish on the PGA TOUR was second:
Tournment Finish
2008 Mayakoba Golf Classic 1
2001 MasterCard Colonial T2
2002 Buick Open T2

Still, a win is a win. Gay even has a 100-pound limestone chameleon trophy to prove it.