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Game rewards Pate for never giving up

Over the years, through all the surgeries to repair his left shoulder, and battling the thoughts of what could have been, Jerry Pate thought about giving up on golf.

One of those times occurred just over a week ago at the Champions Tour event in Naples.

"I just played flawless and shot 70," Pate said of his second round at the ACE Group Classic. "And (playing partner) Lee Trevino said he's never seen anything like it, it should have been a 62. I threw away eight shots. And when I got in the car, I told (wife) Soozi, "I just feel like quitting.'

"I've worked so hard to win, and it just isn't happening, and I'm just not getting anything out of my game. I'm at a loss for words."

Pate, of course, did not quit. He showed up for the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am at the TPC of Tampa Bay, got into contention, then made a clutch birdie putt on the final green Sunday to win his first Champions Tour title by a stroke over Hale Irwin, Mark James and Morris Hatalsky.

It was a stirring victory, one 24 years in the making. Pate had not won since the 1982 Players Championship, where he also jumped into a nearby body of water in celebration. A shoulder injury a few months later all but ended his chance to build on the eight PGA Tour titles he had posted.

But Sunday's victory did not just happen. After some soul-searching and a pep talk from his wife, Pate went back to work. He visited the University of Alabama last Monday and Tuesday for consultation with Dr. James Andrews, who performed surgery on his shoulder in 2003. And he met with the Alabama golf coach, Jay Seawell, to get some work with his putting.

Then he borrowed a putter from Bobby Wadkins, an Odyssey White Hot, that he practiced with for the first time Thursday. Three days later, he had that elusive win.

"I think it's probably as significant as any win I've ever had for me personally," Pate said. "Maybe not for the golfing world, because it's not a U.S. Open or a Players Championship, but for me it's a huge win to be out of the winner's circle for 24 years. I mean that's a long time. And I'm just humbled that I could come back and do it."

The 24 years between his last victory on the PGA Tour and first on the Champions Tour is not a record. Mike Fetchick went more than 28 years between wins, from the 1956 Mayfair Inn Open through the 1985 Hilton Head Seniors International.

WIE'S PROGRESS: Michelle Wie has endured plenty of criticism for playing in men's events and bypassing the junior and amateur ranks of golf. The critics say that hasn't helped her learn how to win.

But her performance at the Fields Open in Hawaii during the final round Saturday suggested good things are ahead for the 16-year-old phenom. Granted, she was on home turf, playing a course she knew well. But Wie came from six strokes off the pace to briefly tie for the lead before settling for third. She made seven birdies and just one bogey in the final round to shoot 66.

It was Wie's fifth top-three finish in her last nine LPGA events. She is not scheduled to play again on the LPGA Tour until the Kraft Nabisco Championship at the end of March.

BLUE MONSTER BASH: The Ford Championship at Doral will bring together the top seven players in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time this year. In fact, the tournament has nine of the top 10, including defending champion Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen. The only player missing is No. 8 Adam Scott.

Outside of a major championship, it just doesn't get much better. The tournament has 17 of the top 20 from the final 2005 PGA Tour money list.

AROUND GOLF: The ACE Group Classic announced last week it would not be returning to the Club at TwinEagles, its Naples home on the Champions Tour for the past five years. TwinEagles elected not to renew an option, so the tournament that has been played at six different venues in seven years will need to find a new home for 2007. A TPC course is planned for Naples, but will likely not be done by 2008. As expected, the Match Play Championship will move to Tucson next year from Carlsbad, Calif.