Jeff Maggert produced a dramatic chip-in at the second extra hole against fellow American Andrew Magee to launch a new era for professional golf in spectacular style at La Costa Resort and Spa.
The dream of truly global World Golf ChampionshipS finally became a reality when the best 64 players in the world assembled for the Andersen Consulting Match Play.
And although many of the big names bowed out early, the five-day fiesta in the Californian sunshine reached a truly thrilling climax as Maggert conjured up his sudden-death stroke of magic to beat Magee.
In four out of his first five matches, 35-year-old Maggert had gone to the last green to claim a victory. In the 36-hole final, he was forced to go further than ever before.
The slim Texan watched as Magee holed from five feet at the 37th to keep the final alive, and things looked bleak when Maggert’s tee shot at the 38th - the short 11th - landed in the second cut of rough near the apron of the green.
Magee already had a cast-iron par three when Maggert lined up his chip - and the birdie attempt from about 20 feet curled around the hole before dropping in. Maggert leapt high in the air - 859,158 euro richer and proud possessor of the first World Golf ChampionshipS title.
Maggert admitted he was confident over his chip and revealed: "I had a pretty decent lie in the rough but I had to pay attention to the speed. The last thing I wanted to do was run it four, five feet past. Lo and behold, I hit it a little too hard but right on line.
"It slowed down just enough and hit the back of the hole and popped in the air and went in. When it went in I thought: ‘I’ve been waiting four and a half years for that."
Frequently the bridesmaid but never a bride, he admitted he worried about for ever being regarded as ‘the man who finished second’. He said: "I knew inside of myself that I had what it took to win golf tournaments."
The European Tour’s challenge for the title centred on five players - José Maria Olazábal, Eduardo Romero of Argentina, Bernhard Langer, Patrik Sjöland and Thomas Björn - the only first round survivors out of 14 starters.
Olazábal and Romero showed great steel and courage to reach the quarter-finals, before losing to John Huston and Steve Pate respectively. Sjöland proved himself to be a star-in-the-making, winning his first two ties, while Langer reminded people that he is still a fine competitor by also reaching the third round.
The International Federation of PGA Tours had a vision of strengthening the competitive structure of professional golf while preserving the traditions of the sport.
The Andersen Consulting Match Play did exactly that as seeds tumbled, shocks abounded and, ultimately, Maggert claimed his second title in eight years on the US PGA tour and a three-year playing exemption.
The final might not have included any of the world’s top 20, but Maggert, ranked 25th, and Magee, 51st in the world, put on a show worthy of the occasion.
Magee, who beat Darren Clarke and Björn in the first two rounds, swept into a three hole lead early in the 36-hole final. The 35-year-old picked up four birdies in the opening nine holes to force his way in front.
Maggert struck back with birdies at the 12th and 13th while Magee had another of his own at the 15th to take a two hole lead into the lunch interval.
Magee birdied the 20th hole to re-establish his three hole lead, but Maggert launched an immediate fightback, taking the 21st and 22nd and 24th holes to square the match. Magee moved ahead once again at the 25th but after Maggert levelled at the 31st, the last five holes were halved.
Both players kept their nerve under intense pressure and Maggert looked on agonisingly as his birdie putt to win the final slid past the hole on the 36th green. Next it was Magee’s turn to keep a cool head as he holed from five feet at the 37th to stay alive.
But the climax arrived at the next hole as Maggert, in the second cut of rough with his tee shot, pulled out his sand wedge and played the perfect shot to end the first World Golf Championship event.
Magee admitted: "It was a classic way to end the final, Jeff chipping in like that. I thought it was pretty good. I even enjoyed it a little bit! I have no regrets. I played as well as I could and just missed a few shots here and there. But that’s golf."
Meanwhile Huston was six under par in beating Pate 5 and 4 in the play-off for third and fourth place.
The five-day feast of match play golf didn’t begin too auspiciously for the 14-strong contingent from the European Tour.
At the end of the first round of 32 matches, Europe’s top three players on last year’s Volvo Order of Merit - Colin Montgomerie, Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood - had disappeared along with six-time major champion Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam.
Montgomerie was eliminated 5 and 3 by San Diego’s local hero, Craig Stadler. The European No.1 was generous in defeat and commented: "He never missed a shot all day. He would have beaten most people the way he played today."
When Clarke lost on the last green to Magee, little did he know that his opponent would go all the way to the final. In a high-scoring clash, the American got up and down from a bunker at the last to edge home.
Westwood, second in Dubai two weeks previously, lost 3 and 2 to Eduardo Romero. It was the start of a fine week for Romero but the swift end for the European Golfer of the Year, who confessed "My game was off. Everything was off and I don’t know what to put it down to."
Faldo was subdued 4 and 3 by world No.1 Woods while Jesper Parnevik went out on the last green to Craig Parry, Ernie Els suffered a one hole defeat by Paul Azinger and Ian Woosnam fell 3 and 2 to Scott Hoch.
David Duval, the man challenging Woods for the right to be accalimed as No1 in the world, put Australia’s Stephen Leaney - the Morrocan and Dutch Open champion - to the sword while Miguel Angel Jiménez put up a brave fight before going down to 1997 Open champion Justin Leonard.
However, the European flag was carried by the exhilarating displays of Sjöland, Björn, Olazábal, Langer and, of course, Romero.
Sjöland was a revelation all week, despite having to adjust to an 11-hour time change from Qatar the previous week - a hurdle which also had to be jumped by Björn and Romero.
The Swede topped world No.11 Jim Furyk 5 and 3 and recovered from the brink of defeat by Carlos Franco to win his second round tie on the final green.
However he "ran out of steam" - as he put it himself - in the third round when a three hole lead was turned into a one hole defeat by Huston, who went on to finish third.
Björn went the same way as Clarke - beaten by Magee - while Langer progressed with a fine 2 and 1 win over Vijay Singh following his first round success over Brad Faxon.
Unfortunately, the two-time former Masters champion went out to Maggert just one round short of the quarter finals.
It was left to Romero and Olazábal to keep the European flag flying in the last eight and the two contenders did so with distinction. Olazábal, despite constant complaints about his erratic driving, showed true courage in winning three matches to make it into the last eight.
Romero, after his initial victory over Westwood, then claimed the notable scalp of Greg Norman before also making his way into the quarter-finals.
The last eight was a multi-national affair with four Americans, an Argentinian, a Japanese and a Spaniard. However the last four would be dominated by the Stars and Stripes.
Maggert toppled Woods 2 and 1, Pate beat a tiring Romero 3 and 2, Magee overcame Shigeki Maruyama by one hole and Huston ended Olazbal’s challenge by a 2 and 1 margin.
Maggert rose to the challenge once again to overwhelm Pate by one hole - the fourth time in five outings he had gone to the final green - while Magee bounced back from the loss of the first three holes to Huston with a 2 and 1 victory.