Pride of Japan


Early in his career, Shigeki Maruyama made regular appearances on a Japanese variety show called Yume-ga MoriMori, which means ‘Lots of Dreams.” He fulfilled one of them Sunday when he became the first Japanese player to win a PGA Tour event on the mainland, beating Charles Howell III in a playoff in the Greater Milwaukee Open. And what’s his next vision? Maruyama didn’t need his interpreter to answer that one. “Beat Tiger Woods!” he bellowed, flashing his ever-present smile a little wider than usual after imitating Tiger’s trademark uppercut and jaw-dropping shout. “Shigeki is a great player,” Howell said. “He’s probably one of the nicest guys out here. He’s always smiling. But now he’s obviously got a reason to smile.” Maruyama sank a 1.35-meter (4.5-foot) birdie putt on the first extra hole after Howell missed a 2.1-meter (7-foot) putt for par on the 18th at Brown Deer Park. The only other Japanese winner on the PGA Tour was Isao Aoki, who won the 1983 Hawaiian Open when he holed a fairway shot for eagle on the final hole. Howell closed with a 7-under 64 and Maruyama had a 66 to finish at 18-under 266 on a hot, humid and windless day. J.P. Hayes (63) and Tim Herron (67) tied for third, three strokes back. Howell’s previous best was a third-place finish in the John Deere Classic last year, and Maruyama’s previous best was a second-place tie — with Woods — in the Buick Invitational last year. Maruyama also has won nine international events. Third-round leader Jeff Sluman tied for 10th place after shooting a 2. Hayes, of Appleton, was trying to become the first native Wisconsin player to win in the GMO’s 34-year history. Howell birdied the last four holes of regulation. Then, he watched from the driving range on a giant TV screen as Maruyama came up short on a 5.4-meter (18 foot) birdie putt for the win in regulation. Maruyama had three birdies and an eagle — on the par-4 eighth hole — on his first 10 holes before bogeying the 11th. His birdie on No. 15 brought him back to 18 under. Howell birdied six of the last seven holes. On No. 18, his 6-meter (20-foot) eagle putt from the front fringe lipped out, and he tapped in to tie Maruyama at 18 under. “I didn’t know if I had a chance to win,” Howell said. “But I tried to make as many birdies as I could to put some pressure on him.” On the 18th fairway, Maruyama seemed to rush his second shot and it sailed into the stands on the right. After a free drop, he pitched to 4.5 meters (15 feet) and was 60 centimeters (2 feet) short on his first putt. Maruyama, who bought a home in Los Angeles and is listening to English tapes, whispered into interpreter Taka Yamamoto’s ear and they had a good laugh. “It’s not baseball, but he still hit one into the stands,” Yamamoto relayed. Maruyama’s and Howell’s fortunes were reversed when they went back to the 18th tee for the playoff. Maruyama was over the green in two shots and chipped to 1.35 meters (4.5 feet), and Howell needed four shots to reach the green. “It’s like match play,” Yamamoto said. “He likes match play. He was really relaxed.” Last year, Maruyama became the first Japanese player to top dlrs 1 million in a season and his dlrs 558,000 check Sunday put his season winnings at US$1,237,739. Hayes said the affable 31-year-old Maruyama will soon be a household name. “I don’t know what the general public thinks about his game, but all the players know that he’s an excellent player,” Hayes said. “He’s played quite well over here.” Howell, the 2000 college champion from Oklahoma State University, won US$334,800, by far his biggest check on tour. His season winnings of US$736,176 puts him safely in the top 125 to earn his PGA Tour card for next year. “It’s nice to know you have a job,” he said.”It’s a huge relief.” Skip Kendall, playing in his hometown to fulfill his father’s dying wish, fired a 67 to finish at 12 under. He followed his 73 on Thursday — less than 24 hours after his father died — with a 67-65-67 finish. “I think my dad is looking down and smiling,” Kendall said.