KAPALUA, Hawaii (Reuters) - Swede Daniel Chopra held his nerve in fading light to beat American Steve Stricker in a playoff for the PGA Tour’s season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship on Sunday.
The Stockholm native birdied the fourth extra hole at Kapalua Resort’s Plantation Course to earn the winner’s cheque for $1.1 million and his second Tour title.
Both players missed birdie opportunities from around six feet at the first playoff hole before Chopra sealed victory with a two-putt birdie at the par-five ninth, his eagle attempt having come to rest on the edge of the cup.
It was the seventh playoff in the last 14 years at the event which brings together the title-holders from the previous Tour season.
The pair had completed the 72 regulation holes in 18-under-par 274 on a sun-kissed day on the Hawaiian island of Maui, Chopra carding a 66 and Stricker finishing birdie-birdie-par-birdie for a 64.
“It was unbelievable,” a beaming Chopra told reporters after delivering a master class with his putter to book his place at the Masters for the first time.
”What a great round I played today. I kept making birdies and I tried to avoid looking up at the board. I looked a couple of times and I saw I had the lead and then I looked up again and all of a sudden Stricker kept making them (birdies).
Chopra, who had narrowly missed a 13-footer to seal victory at the 72nd hole, fell agonisingly short with a 24-footer for birdie on the second extra hole.
“All those putts in the playoff and in regulation, I thought I hit superb strokes,” he added.
”Every single one of them I hit exactly the way I wanted and I felt like they were going in the hole and then I thought maybe it wasn’t meant to be.
“I‘m awfully happy. Now I get to go to Augusta, my lifelong dream.”
For much of the day, Chopra had been in control.
He set the tone by holing a 45-footer to birdie the par-three second and picked up further shots at the third, fifth and seventh to reach the turn in four-under 32.
He rolled in another monster putt at the par-three 11th, from 30 feet, before stretching his lead to three with additional birdies at the 12th and 13th.
However the Swede failed to take advantage of the par-five 15th as Stricker, who had holed out from the fairway to eagle the par-four 12th, piled on the pressure.
A two-putt birdie at the 15th put the American two strokes behind and he forced the playoff with further birdies on 16 and at the last, where he coolly sank a 12-footer.
“A little disappointing but I‘m very happy with the way I played this week,” Stricker said after failing in his bid to win a fifth PGA Tour title.
Canadian Stephen Ames, who hit the opening drive of the 2008 PGA Tour on Thursday, birdied four of the last six holes for a 66 and third place at 17 under.
Compatriot Mike Weir, the third-round leader, was a further stroke back in fourth having lost ground with two bogeys in the first four holes on his way to a 70.
Writing by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Martin Petty