Ben Crane's quiet offseason took a strange turn in December when a gossip magazine quoted him as saying that Tiger Woods was a "phony and fake," even though Crane had never spoken to Life & Style and had not given any interviews in months.
He handled that situation with the same even hand he displayed Sunday at Torrey Pines, where Crane overcame a two-shot deficit and hung on for a 2-under 70 and a one-shot victory in the Farmers Insurance Open.
"Obviously, being in the news a month ago was bizarre," Crane said. "Someone made some stuff up that I said something about Tiger, which I didn't. To be in the news again? Yeah, my name keeps popping up. It's good to be [in the news] on a good note."
Then he smiled.
"And you can quote me on that."
Even more bizarre was the way Crane made his way around the tough South Course. He made two birdie putts longer than 45 feet to seize control, then missed two short par putts to keep alive the hopes of Michael Sim, Brandt Snedeker and Marc Leishman.
And the whole time, Crane wasn't even keeping score.
He pledged not to look at a leaderboard all day, and when he rapped in a 30-inch par putt, Crane didn't even realize he had won until Ryuji Imada congratulated him.
"Did I win?" Crane asked.
With a reputation for slow play, perhaps it was only fitting that Crane was the last one to know.
Crane finished at 13-under 275 for his third career victory, ending an 0-98 drought that stretches to Milwaukee in the summer of 2005. Even as he settled in for his news conference, he wasn't sure of the perks -- a return trip to the Masters in April and Kapalua next January. He likely will crack the top 60 in the world, which should be enough to put him in the Match Play Championship.
Robert Allenby fully believes the change in the grooves rule to start the 2010 season cost him two potential victories, including at Sunday's Farmers Insurance Open. Interestingly enough, he still supports the change. Bob Harig
Starting the final round two shots behind, he opened with three birdies in five holes, including one from just over 45 feet on No. 3. He expanded his lead to three shots with another 45-foot birdie putt on the 11th.
Then, it was a matter of hanging on.
"It's really cool to know I'm going in the right direction," Crane said.
He had plenty of challengers, although Phil Mickelson wasn't one of them. Making his season debut, and only four shots behind, Mickelson bogeyed his first three holes and was never a factor. He closed with a 73 and finished 19th.
Robert Allenby made a charge only to fall back by losing five shots in four holes.
Sim, the 25-year-old Australian who closed with a 71, kept with Crane the entire round and had his chances to the very end. Trailing by two, Sim was certain he had made a 15-foot birdie on the 17th hole and stopped in utter surprise when it ran over the right side of the cup. Crane then missed a par putt inside 3 feet to lose another shot off his lead.
Both laid up on the par-5 18th, and both put too much spin on their wedges that the shots rolled off the green -- Crane's against the collar, Sim's a yard off the front of the green, forcing him to chip. They settled for pars.
Sim had just under 250 yards to the hole, right on the edge of reaching the green with his 3-wood. Rather than risk his chance of winning on a fairway metal he had to hit perfect. He thought he could make birdie with his wedge, and everything went right except the spin.
With Tiger at least temporarily out of the picture, golf needed its big stars to grab the headlines at the start of the season. Uh, not like this, writes ESPN.com's Jason Sobel. Weekly 18
"It was a perfect number, a perfect shot," he said. "It would have been nice to have a putt at it."
Snedeker closed with a 69 after narrowly missing a 12-foot birdie on the last hole. Leishman had a 68.
Michael Allen celebrated his 51st birthday with five straight birdies for a Sunday-best 65, moving him into a tie for fifth with Ernie Els (69), Rickie Fowler (70) and Alex Prugh (66), who earned a trip to Riviera next week for the Northern Trust Open.
Allenby was the first to make a move at Crane, pulling within two shots after his two-putt birdie at the 13th. But for the second straight tournament, he was a victim of the new V-groove regulation. His ball jumped out of the rough on the 14th with a 7-iron, well over the green and into the hazard. In Honolulu, another flier went through the back of the green on the last hole and he made par to lose by one.
"If you really look at it, it's cost me two tournaments, definitely," Allenby said. "I was in the groove and feeling ready to do it today, and it was such a shame that it happened."
Mickelson was four shots behind when he teed off to a hometown cheer. Within an hour, he was out of the tournament.
He pulled his bunker shot down a slope to the right of the first green, blocked by branches of a torrey pine from playing a flop shot. Using his Ping-Eye 2 wedge with square grooves that has caused so much consternation this week, he flew it onto the green and it raced some 30 feet by the cup, leading to bogey.
Two more bogeys followed, and that was that.
"I didn't feel I played as bad as the score reflected," Mickelson said after his 73. "I feel my game is coming around. I was really excited about playing here. Maybe I was a little anxious. My timing was a little off this week."