Ames' best is plenty good

This is the guy who riled Tiger Woods a month ago.
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- An embarrassing loss to Tiger Woods is in the past. A trip to the Masters might not be in his future. All that mattered to Stephen Ames was playing the best round of his life to overwhelm the best players in golf Sunday in The Players Championship.
A month after making fun of Woods, Ames won like him.
He hit impeccable iron shots to build a big lead on the treacherous TPC at Sawgrass, then let everyone collapse in a series of wrecks around him. When he had fired at his last flag, Ames had a 5-under 67 -- the best round of a demanding final round -- and won by six shots over two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen.
"This is big," Ames said.
Tour's richest purse
He finished at 14-under 274, earned $1.44 million from the richest purse on the PGA Tour, and earned an unlikely trip to the Masters in two weeks.
Whether he goes remains to be seen.
Ames' wife, Jodi, is recovering from lung cancer. His sons, ages 9 and 6, are starting their two-week spring break and Ames has a vacation planned in his native Trinidad.
"I had no plans of playing at Augusta," he said. "My priorities have always been family first. If it comes down to that, it's probably going to be a two-week vacation.
"I'd rather go on vacation, to be truthful."
The way he played on a sun-baked afternoon on Sawgrass, he might be a force at the Masters.
It was the second-toughest Sunday at The Players Championship, yet Ames showed no nerves and said he felt none. His 67 from the final group was the best score by two shots.
The only blip was a double bogey on the 10th hole, when mud on his ball caused his approach to plug into a bunker, and it took him two shots to get out. His lead was cut in half to two strokes, and with the terror of the back nine awaiting, it was set up for another dramatic finish.
Pours it on
Instead, Ames poured it on with magnificent shots, starting with a 3-iron into 15 feet on the par-5 11th to set up a two-putt birdie. Then came an 8-iron on the par-3 13th that caught the ridge and rolled to 2 feet for birdie. He took only 12 putts on the back nine, including a 25-footer for eagle from just off the green at No. 16.
"It was a matter of seeing the shot and hitting the shot and not worrying about it," said Ames, "because nobody was close to me to worry about it."
Ames has seen that kind of golf before.
He faced Woods in the first round of the Match Play Championship, and riled him by saying that anything could happen, "especially where he's hitting the ball." Woods turned it into the shortest match in 18-hole history, 9 and 8, a score that became Ames' nickname the last month.
Woods was never part of the equation Sunday. He twice made double bogey from the fairway and shot 75 to tie for 22nd, 15 shots out of the lead.
"That's golf," Woods said. "Each week is so different. Stephen didn't really play all that well when he played against me in the Match Play. The great thing about this game is it starts over the very next week."
Those who did have a chance to win didn't last long.
Ames played with Vijay Singh, who shot 41 on the front, didn't make a birdie until the 11th hole and finished with a 77.
In front of him was Sergio Garcia, whose three-putt bogey and double bogey into the water led to a 78, and Mike Weir, who hit into the water and three-putted on the same hole while shooting 79. Ernie Els got within three shots of the lead until he found water on the 16th and 17th holes and settled for a 71.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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