Daniel Chopra Daniel Chopra wins PGA Tour opener, Mercedes-Benz Championship in playoff

Almost from the moment he arrived at the Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort, Daniel Chopra said he felt a positive vibe.

The good feelings multiplied exponentially Sunday as Chopra birdied the fourth playoff hole to beat Steve Stricker and win the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship in Hawaii. The victory was the second of Chopra's career.

"It was an unbelievable day, really," Chopra told reporters. "I felt very comfortable all week, really. I guess the win made me more comfortable. I felt like I did belong now and I was a winner."

Chopra earned a $1.1-million first-place check and received a Mercedes-Benz sports car for his victory. He also received 4,500 FedEx Cup points to be the first leader in the season-long chase and an invitation to play in the Masters.

The wide-open fairways at the Plantation Course played perfectly into the hands of Chopra, who finished No. 189 on the PGA Tour last year in driving accuracy. Playing on the tour's fourth-easiest driving course, he shot a 7-under-par 66 in the final round to finish at 18-under 274 on the par-73, 7,411-yard layout.

"It's wide off the tee — gives me plenty of room," Chopra said. "It's big, slopey greens. You have to be a good putter. I am a good putter. I was able to use my imagination to read putts and see.

"It just comes naturally to me. I can see the slopes, I can see the grain, I can see where the wind is going, and all my years of playing all over the world on different types of greens helps me."

Prior to finally winning on the fourth playoff hole, Chopra twice had opportunities — once on the final hole of regulation and once in the playoff — to dispose of Stricker, but saw two putts come to rest on the lip of the hole.

"I felt like there was a goalie in the hole, like it wasn't meant to be," said Chopra, who fell to his knees and dropped his putter after each miss.

Stricker, who forced the playoff by making birdies on three of his final four holes and closed with a 9-under 64, had some bad luck of his own on the first playoff hole. Set up for a lengthy birdie putt, Stricker's ball was slowed when it hit Chopra's ball mark and wound up 10 feet short of the hole.

Still, it was a remarkable rally by Stricker, who had little time to sharpen his game, coming to Hawaii from the cold and snow of Wisconsin.

"This is definitely a good start for the season," Stricker told media members after his round. "It's a little bitter-sweet again today where I played a great round and ended up with some opportunities in regulation to make a couple more birdies coming down the stretch — hit good putts — but I can't be disappointed."

Stephen Ames shot a final-round 66 to finish third at 17-under 275. Third-round leader Mike Weir shot 70 and placed fourth at 16-under 276, while Jim Furyk, Hunter Mahan and first-round leader Nick Watney tied for fifth at 14-under 278.

Chopra's final round was keyed by a strong start as he recorded birdies on the second, third, fifth and seventh holes. He later made three consecutive birdies on Nos. 11-13 and then parred out to finish off his bogey-free round.

"By far the best final round I've ever played to win a tournament — actually just to get in a playoff," Chopra said. "But seven birdies and no bogeys, I always dreamed of having a bogey-free round to win a golf tournament."

January 7, 2008

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