• Humana Challenge, Round Four

Gay secures Humana win in a play-off

ESPN staff
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Brian Gay held his nerve to claim victory © AP
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Brian Gay found the extra distance he was looking for without sacrificing control and it helped him secure victory in the Humana Challenge in a three-man play-off.

That was clear late Sunday afternoon when Gay cracked a 300-yard drive down the center of the fairway to set up a birdie on the first play-off hole.

A few minutes later, he split the fairway with a 297-yarder and made another birdie to hold off Charles Howell III for his fourth PGA Tour title.

"I'm still in a little bit of shock," Gay said. "It kind of happened so fast there at the end the way things went down. Last year was a struggle. It was a long year, a lot of work. I just wanted to come out this year kind of refocused, recharged, and believing in myself."

Gay won on the par-4 10th, putting his 9-iron second shot 5½ feet below the hole. Howell drove into the right rough, hit into the back bunker, blasted out to 15 feet and two-putted for bogey.

The 41-year-old Gay, hardly an imposing figure at 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds, worked hard last year with Grant Waite and Joe Mayo to increase his driving distance.

"My whole game's been about accuracy and short game," Gay said. "I've always been a short hitter on the tour and I felt like as I was getting older I'm only going to get shorter and shorter. ... It was tough last year trying to play making those changes."

Gay closed with a 9-under 63 on PGA West's Arnold Palmer Private Course to match Howell and Swedish rookie David Lingmerth at 25-under 263. Howell shot a 64, and Lingmerth had a 62.

Lingmerth dropped out with a bogey on the first extra hole - the par-5 18th - after hitting his approach into the left-side water.

Scott Stallings, five strokes ahead entering the round, bogeyed the final hole for a 70 to miss the play-off by a stroke. Gay began the round six strokes behind Stallings.

"The thoughts were, 'Just be aggressive, shoot as low as you can,' " Gay said.

Howell tied for second a week after opening the season with a third-place tie in Hawaii in the Sony Open. He won the last of his two tour titles in 2007.

"Anybody that says that that golf is fun or whatever, has really not done it for a living," Howell said. "I would never characterize this as fun. It's different than that. It's awfully challenging mentally."

After birdieing nine of the first 13 holes, Gay finished regulation with five straight pars. On the 18th, he hit into the right greenside rough, chipped past the hole and missed an 8-foot birdie try.

"I felt like I gave one back with a par on 18," Gay said. "I was happy to be in the play-off."

Given a second chance, he outlasted Howell for his first victory since the 2009 St. Jude Classic. He also won the 2008 Mayakoba Golf Classic and 2009 Verizon Heritage.

Playing in the second-to-last group, Howell had a chance to pull ahead on the final hole of regulation, but left his approach about 85 feet short and three-putted for par. His 5-foot birdie try made a sharp left turn inches from hole.

Phil Mickelson had a 66 to tie for 37th at 17-under in his season debut.

"I was rusty starting the year," Mickelson said. "I had a great four days here where I can work on my game with perfect weather and wonderful golf courses, where I could build some momentum. Heading into San Diego, I feel a lot more confident."

This article first appeared on ESPN.com

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