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Last but Not Least Ames Wins Disney Finale

 LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Even without a trophy, Stephen Ames felt he had nothing to prove.
Despite a winless season, he already considered this year a success because he revamped his swing to eliminate nagging back issues. He twice contended in majors, when he was tied for the lead on the final day at Oakmont and played in the final group at Southern Hills.
One last trip to escape the chill of Calgary turned into so much more Sunday.
Ames ran off three straight birdies on the back nine at Disney, the last one a 4-iron that was close to perfect, then saved par from 65 feet away in a bunker on the closing hole for a one-shot victory in the Children's Miracle Network Classic.
'I came down here to work on my golf swing,' Ames said. 'Here I am winning an event, which is awesome.'
Ames closed with a 4-under 68, and that bunker shot to 3 feet for par on the 18th hole at the Magnolia Course was enough to hold off hard-charging Tim Clark in the final PGA TOUR event of the season.
Clark birdied six of his last 10 holes for a 66, the lowest score on the weekend of a tournament that no longer is a pushover.
'I didn't everything I could, and it wasn't enough,' Clark said.
Ames won for the first time this year, and he had to work hard for it. Seven players were tied for the lead at some point in a final round filled with sunshine, and even a one-shot lead with three holes to play was no bargain.
'It was a grind coming down the stretch,' Ames said. 'The way I finished with three pars, I'm quite happy I did.'
Ames, who grew up in Trinidad & Tobago and moved to Calgary 13 years ago -- he's now a Canadian citizen -- heads home to a winter of freezing temperatures, plenty of work in the gym and an earlier start to next year than he anticipated.
'I was planning on going to Maui for a Christmas vacation, and now I have another reason to go,' Ames said, referring to Kapalua for the winners-only Mercedes-Benz Championship that starts the 2008 season.
Ames finished at 17-under 271, the highest winning score at Disney since Tiger Woods won with the same score in 1999.
Scott Verplank, who shared the 54-hole lead with Ames, was tied with four holes to play until he couldn't match Ames' birdie on the 15th and three-putted the 16th from about 70 feet. He shot 71 and tied for third with Tag Ridings (70) and Robert Gamez (68).
The consolation prize went to Kevin Stadler, who tied for 15th to move into the top 125 and keep his card for next year. Stadler finished at No. 124, while Matthias Gronberg locked up the final spot with a tie for 37th.
Stadler began the Fall Series at No. 108 on the money list, but made only two cuts over the last six weeks and had dropped to No. 127. He played the final round knowing he was somewhere around the magic number.
'It's not life or death, but it's a hell of a big deal,' Stadler said.
Justin Leonard was among those atop the leaderboard in the final round until a late bogey dropped him into a tie for sixth, leaving him short of the top 30 on the money list to earn a spot in the Masters.
Gamez had a 67-68 weekend and tied for third to earn $239,200, pushing him up to No. 132 on the money list. Gamez and Jeff Gove at least moved inside the top 150, meaning they can skip the second stage of Q-school and at least have conditional status next year. Tripp Isenhour had a chance to join them, but he failed to make birdie in his round of 75.
None of that concerned Ames, 43, who only wanted to finish out his season on a strong note. He chose Disney as his last event because his swing coach, Sean Foley, lives in Orlando and he figured they could work on his game.
He sure got a good test.
'I wanted to see how my golf swing held up,' Ames said. 'Part of it held up, and part of it didn't.'
It was messy atop the leaderboard, nothing new at this tournament. The seven players tied for the lead at some point included Bryce Molder, who made eagle at No. 14 to get to 15 under, only to give it back two holes later when his drive found the water.
Verplank went ahead a 15-foot birdie on the seventh hole and stayed atop the leaderboard most of the day.
Ames holed a 12-foot birdie on the 13th hole to tie for the lead, he and Verplank both birdied the par-5 14th, and the turning point came at the 204-yard 15th, where Ames hit a 4-iron that rolled past the pin and settled 8 feet away.
'That was a clutch shot,' Ames said.
He also knew what followed -- three of the longest, toughest holes on the Magnolia course, knowing that Clark already had posted his score. But he kept the ball in play off the tee, and didn't have to work too hard to par until his bunker shot at the end.
Clark had no reason to play this week, because he already is exempt for the Masters. Even after running off four straight birdies starting at No. 9 with a 30-foot putt, winning never occurred to him until his 10-foot birdie on the 14th put him in a tie for the lead.
But he had few complaints.
'I really didn't leave anything out there,' he said.
Verplank went over $3 million for the first time in his career. ... J.B. Holmes came into the week at No. 126 on the money list and tied for ninth to finish at No. 118. He already was exempt for 2008 from winning last year, but at least qualified for The Players Championship. ... Molder tied for sixth, his first top 10 on the PGA TOUR in more than five years.
Related Links:
  • Leaderboard - Children's Miracle Network Classic
  • Full Coverage - Children's Miracle Network Classic