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Tataurangi Comes Home a Big Winner

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- Phil Tataurangi has come home a winner.
Tataurangi, winner of the U.S. PGA Tour's Invensys Classic in Las Vegas in October, where he picked up $900,000, begins play Thursday in the New Zealand Open at Auckland Golf Club.
``I really wanted to come home with a win under my belt,'' he said Tuesday before a practice round. ``To win on the PGA Tour has been a goal of mine since I started playing professionally and that's been a long time coming.''
Tataurangi also had three other top-10 finishes for earnings of $1.6 million during his best season on the U.S. Tour. His success in Las Vegas has qualified him for the U.S. Masters, the U.S. PGA and two World Golf Championship events.
For that reason, he's looking forward to the new season.
``As soon as New Year's Day rolled around, although 2002 was very good to me, I was happy for it to finish,'' he said.
``There a lot of very exciting things that happened to me last year but I was happy to put that aside and start afresh.''
Tataurangi said his Las Vegas win gave him confidence that his career was sound.
``When I started out my career I had hoped last year would have arrived earlier than it did,'' he said.
``But the experience I've gained over the years has put me in good stead to carry on and keep on advancing at that level. There hasn't been a lot of time to daydream.''
Tataurangi has had some lean years since joining the U.S. Tour in 1997, losing his card after the first year, battling injuries and trying to overcome complications of a heart condition.
In 2001, he collapsed and had to be put on a stretcher and given oxygen on the 17th hole of the Air Canada Championship. He suffered from superventricular tachycardia, a condition that causes rapid beating of the heart and mimics the symptoms of a heart attack.
He had surgery last July to fix the condition, and his golf game has improved.
Now that he has a Tour victory, he doesn't care if 2003 includes one.
``I don't think you have to win every year to consider it a successful season,'' he said. ``Golf's one of those games where you get better by losing, not by winning every single week.''
Tataurangi said he took no pleasure that his first Tour win may have silenced critics who doubted he could compete in the United States.
``I've never really taken too much notice of the people who have doubted me, I don't even know who they are,'' he said. ``I just got satisfaction out of meeting the goals I set for myself and repaying the people who have helped me along the way.''
Tataurangi, who opened his 2003 season with a tie for 17th place at the Mercedes Championships in Hawaii, said he would use the New Zealand Open to prepare for tournaments in the United States.
But he'd like to do well in Auckland, where the total purse money this week is about $350,000 less than his first-place check in Las Vegas.
``It's our national open, irrespective of the purse or what it can do for your career,'' said Tataurangi. ``If I don't do it this week I'll try to do it next year or the year after, sometime before I hang up my spikes.''