Ben Crane is back in the news for the right reasons.
Crane’s quiet offseason took a strange turn in December when a gossip magazine quoted him as saying that Tiger Woods was a “phony and fake,” even though Crane had never spoken to Life & Style and had not given any interviews in months.
He handled that situation with the same even hand he displayed Sunday at San Diego’s Torrey Pines, where Crane overcame a two-shot deficit and hung on for a 2-under 70 and a one-shot victory in the Farmers Insurance Open.
“Obviously, being in the news a month ago was bizarre,” Crane said. “Someone made some stuff up that I said something about Tiger, which I didn’t. To be in the news again? Yeah, my name keeps popping up. It’s good to be (in the news) on a good note.”
Then he smiled.
“And you can quote me on that.”
Even more bizarre was the way Crane made his way around the tough South Course. He made two birdie putts longer than 45 feet to seize control, then missed two short par putts to keep alive the hopes of Michael Sim, Brandt Snedeker and Marc Leishman.
And the whole time, Crane wasn’t even keeping score.
He pledged not to look at a leaderboard all day, and when he rapped in a 30-inch par putt, Crane didn’t even realize he had won until Ryuji Imada congratulated him.
“Did I win?” Crane asked.
Perhaps it was only fitting that Crane, an Oregon native who has a reputation for slow play, was the last one to know.
Crane finished at 13-under 275 for his third career victory, ending an 0-98 drought that stretches to Milwaukee in the summer of 2005. Even as he settled in for his news conference, he wasn’t sure of the perks – a return trip to the Masters in April and a berth at Kapalua in Hawaii next January.
He likely will crack the top 60 in the world, which should be enough to put him in the Match Play Championship in three weeks.
Starting the final round two shots behind, he opened with three birdies in five holes, including one from just over 45 feet on No. 3. He expanded his lead to three shots with another 45-foot birdie putt on the 11th.
Then, it was a matter of hanging on.
“It’s really cool to know I’m going in the right direction,” Crane said.
He had plenty of challengers, although Phil Mickelson wasn’t one of them. Making his season debut, and starting the round only four shots behind, Mickelson bogeyed his first three holes and was never a factor. He closed with a 73 and finished 19th.
Robert Allenby made a charge only to fall back by losing five shots in four holes.
Sim, a 25-year-old Australian who closed with a 71, kept with Crane the entire round and had his chances at the end. Trailing by two, Sim was certain he had made a 15-foot birdie on the 17th hole and stopped in surprise when it ran past the cup. Crane then missed a par putt inside 3 feet to lose another shot off his lead.
Both laid up on the par-5 18th, and both put too much spin on their wedge shots that rolled off the green. They settled for pars.
Snedeker closed with a 69 after narrowly missing a 12-foot birdie on the 18th. Leishman had a 68.
Michael Allen celebrated his 51st birthday with five straight birdies for a Sunday-best 65, moving him into a tie for fifth with Ernie Els (69), Rickie Fowler (70) and Spokane’s Alex Prugh (66), who earned a trip to Riviera next week for the Northern Trust Open.
Prugh, a former University of Washington player and PGA Tour rookie, has two top-five finishes in three events and nearly $300,000 in earnings this year.
Tacoma’s Michael Putnam, who got into his first PGA Tour event in more than two years through Monday qualifying, shot a final-round 75 and finished tied for 37th (3-under 285).
Swede wins in desert
Sweden’s Robert Karlsson won the Qatar Masters in Doha for his 10th European tour title, closing with a 7-under 65 for a three-stroke victory.
The 40-year-old Karlsson, sidelined for several months last season because of an eye injury, finished at 15-under 273 at Doha Golf Club.
Spain’s Alvaro Quiros (67) was second in his title defense, and England’s Lee Westwood (70) and Australia’s Brett Rumford (69) followed at 11 under.
Rookie wins in New Zealand
Robert Gates became the 13th player to win his Nationwide Tour debut, closing with a 2-over 74 on Sunday for a one-stroke victory over Australia’s Andrew Dodt in the tour’s season-opening New Zealand Open in Queenstown.
Gates, the 6-foot-6 former Texas A&M player who played the Canadian Tour last year, had a 14-under 274 total at The Hills. He opened with rounds of 65, 67 and 68 in the event also sanctioned by the PGA Tour of Australasia. Dodt finished with a 72.
Gig Harbor’s Kyle Stanley finished 1-under 287, a tie for 37th.