Lane keeps his nerve to gain his biggest win

 

LESS than three months ago, he squandered the chance of victory in the Smurfit European Open at The K Club by failing to gain an expected birdie at the long 18th on the final day. Yet, with a prize of $ 1 million at stake, Barry Lane birdied the long 18th at the Grayhawk GC, Scottsdale, Arizona, last Sunday, to beat David Frost by two holes in the final of the inaugural $3.65 million Andersen Consulting World Championship of Golf.

It's truly a remarkable old game. Even in matchplay, Lane's record under pressure appeared suspect, notably the manner in which he relinquished a winning position against Chip Beck in the Ryder Cup at The Belfry in 1993. And after the European Open, his play-off record was a dismal 0-3.

Now, the 35-year-old from Hayes, Middlesex, has become only the third British competitor to win a million dollar tournament. A player who had no fewer than seven visits to the Qualifying School from 1978 to 1985, has emulated Ian Woosnam, (1988) and Nick Faldo (1994), both of whom have captured the Sun City Million Dollar Challenge.

Despite Lane's triumph in the World Assistants' Championship in 1983, adversity was a perennial companion during that period. Now, the financial struggle is most definitely at an end. And the composure he exuded in quest of a seven-figure cheque was quite remarkable, certainly when compared with the frayed nerves we witnessed from competitors in the Ryder Cup at Oak Hill. Can the pressure of team golf be all that different?

Lane qualified for Scottsdale as winner of the European section in which he beat Sam Torrance, Bernhard Langer and Seve Ballesteros. He then defeated the 40-year-old Japanese qualifier Massy Kuramoto in the world semi-final last Saturday when Frost beat the US qualifier, Mark McCumber.

Kuramoto ($300,000), who may be remembered by Irish enthusiasts for having tied fourth with Des Smyth behind Tom Watson in the 1982 British Open at Royal Troon, went on to lose the 18-hole third-place play-off to McCumber ($350,000) by 4 and 3. Meanwhile, Lane took on the widely experienced Frost ($500,000) in the final, over 36 holes.

Entering 1995, Frost had just completed a season in which earnings of $1.4 million had ranked him 12th in the world, whereas Lane was a modest 56th, with $612,000. And in career earnings, the South African went to Scottsdale with $11.5 million to his credit (10th in the world), compared to $3.3 million from Lane.

With sparkling, approximate, figures of five-under-par 67 for the morning round, Lane eased into a one hole lead by lunchtime.

And he seemed to be set fair for victory when he stretched that to three up with 11 holes remaining. Wayward approach irons by the Englishman, however, coupled with a fine, 15-foot birdie putt from Frost at the 31st, brought them, level with five holes remaining.

Two holes later, a superb birdie by Lane, whose approach finished only four feet behind the hole, left him one up with three to play. He then survived a potentially, watery grave at the short 35th before sealing the match on the last. Here, he drove into a bunker on the right but played a splendid recovery before wedging comfortably inside the target set by Frost. When the South African's attempted birdie putt slipped below the hole, Lane eased his effort in for victory.

In a change for the next staging of the event, the world semi-finals and final have been pushed back a week, into 1997.

"I think that will make a big difference," said USPGA Tour Commissioner, Tim Finchem. And in a reference to the absence of Greg Norman, Nick Price, Ernie Els, Fred Couples. Nick Faldo and Davis Love from the inaugural line-up, Finchem added: "I believe I can convince most of the top players to enter next year.

As for last weekend, it could be said that Lane certainly made hay in the winter sunshine of Arizona. He has moved into the top-50 in the Sony World Rankings as a result of this victory. The Englishman is 38th under a new, two-year system which replaces the old, three-year format in use since 1986.