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Shigeki Stands Tall at Byron Nelson

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IRVING, Texas -- Is he really that short? Is he really that funny? Is he that professional a singer? Is he really that good?
 
Shigeki Maruyama, all 5-foot-8 of him, is the new Verizon Byron Nelson Classic champion. He won it Sunday by shooting 2-under-par 68, finishing with a 14-under 266 and gaining a two-shot victory. In the process, he answered all those questions ' especially showing that he is that good ' with a resounding yes.
 
Not bad for a man who loves to sing karaoke. I was singing, Tears in Heaven, the Eric Clapton song, said a grinning Maruyama through an interpreter. I dont sing English songs too much, but I knew that I would like to do that sometime at the Presidents Cup. Therefore, I studied and practiced quite a bit.
 
Maruyama on his win.

Maruyama hung on rather shakily in mid-round, making a bogey on No. 12 when he hit water on his approach shot, then missed the green with his tee shot on the par-3 13th. But he made par on the 13th to regain his three-shot lead, then scrambled for another par on the par-3 17th after missing the green by 20 feet. The victims Sunday were relative unknown Ben Crane and a charging Tiger Woods.
 
Maruyama won for the second time in the United States in two years. Last year, he got his first victory in the America at the Greater Milwaukee Open.
 
This was a big difference compared to Milwaukee, he said, feet still not reaching the carpet while sitting in the interview chair. I was leading (through so much of this tournament.) At Milwaukee, I remember I was so much like, coming back. This time was completely different.
 
The first time winning, I couldnt believe myself. This time, things are so different. I feel like my effort and my talent came out.
 
The 17th was the critical hole for Maruyama Sunday. He hit what looked like a good tee shot at first, but the ball carried over the back left. It rolled down a slope perilously close to water, but stopped about a yard short of a lake.
 
Facing a very difficult chip, uphill to an elevated green with a pin cut 20 feet from the edge of the green, Maruyama hit a delicate chip to within three feet. He sank the putt, and that par meant he would stay comfortably ahead of Crane, who was having to make par from a pitch shot on 18 to stay within two shots of Maruyama.
 
As soon as I hit the shot, I felt like, Oh yeah, it was good, he said of the swipe at 17. But I could hear the (gallery) going, Oooo. And then I almost fainted when I saw (where the shot had ended.)
 
The wind quieted down somewhat from Saturday. Maruyama saw it and knew he was going to have a more difficult time than if he had been battling the contrary breezes of the day before. I said, OK, the wind has stopped and all the players will start playing really good.
 
The only thing to do, decided Shigeki, was to play well himself. He opened with a birdie on the very first hole and played the front side in 1-under-par. He grimly hung on on the backside, making a birdie on No. 10, making a bogey at No. 11, but then putting brilliantly with clutch saves on the next three holes. As it developed, he would have just enough of a margin of error.
 
Woods rallied to shoot a 5-under 65, but an over-par round Thursday when he struggled with a 71 (par 70) doomed him. Crane, who tied for fifth at the 2001 qualifying school, shot a 65 also and threw a scare into Maruyama.
 
Just to be here and be playing on the weekend, I was so thankful, said Crane. I really had an amazing couple of days. Being in the hunt ' and playing with Ernie Els ' was awesome.
 
Crane is indisposed next week. He is getting married to Heather Heinze in Portland, Ore., May 18.
 
Woods, despite the failure to win, is pleased with where his game is after taking a long vacation since his win at the Masters.
 
Ive gotten better every day, said Tiger. Thats what you want to see when you take some time off. You want to see some progress, and Ive been able to do that. If I could have progressed every day, I feel like it would have been a successful week, which I have been able to do.
 
Final results from the Verizon Byron Nelson Classic