The putter, Jay Don Blake said, had been killing him.

"I'd just got tired of missing all those short birdie putts, reaching the par-5's in two, then 3-putting, playing well and getting nothing out of it," Blake said."I probably haven't had a real good putting round in a number of years."

So he killed the putter, the one he'd used since his high school days in St. George, Utah. He drowned it in a pond at Palm Springs last Monday while playing with some friends.

"I don't know what came over me," Blake said. "That's very much out of character for me."

Blake said he and his friends "had a few dollars going, and I wasn't making anything. Finally, I missed a short putt on the 17th hole and I just turned around and threw the putter about 30 yards into the middle of a pond."

It's still there.

So Blake had to go to a backup putter when he went from the California desert to the coast for the Shearson Lehman Brothers Open.

The backup putter came through for him Sunday as he rolled in two critical back-nine birdies that enabled Blake to pull away from a tightly-bunched field and score the first victory of his five-season PGA Tour career.

"I always thought I had what it takes to win out here, but I was beginning to wonder," said Blake, 32, the 1980 NCAA champion from Utah State.

He also wondered about the change from the old putter to the new.

"If I'd still had that Palm Springs putter, I might have kept on missing putts and messing up and not won today," he said after a final-round 67 produced a two-stroke victory with a 20-under-par 268 total at Torrey Pines.

It did not come easily. At least a half-dozen players had a shot at the title, and the $180,000 first prize, before Blake nailed it down with two critical strokes with the new putter.

The first was a downhill, 18-footer from off the green for a birdie on the 15th that gave him some breathing room. The other, from about the same distance on the 17th, was the clincher.

"It's a relief," Blake said.

Asked if he'd ever played in the Masters, Blake's eyes opened wide.

"I hadn't even thought about that," he said. "It's just now coming to me, a lot of things coming."

Among them will be his first invitation to the Masters, his first eligibility for the Tournament of Champions and the World Series of Golf, entry to such invitational events as Bay Hill, the Heritage, Colonial and Memorial.

Blake, however, was not the only one with reason to celebrate.

Bill Sander, a former national amateur champion who has yet to win in a 14-year tour career, finished off a 66 with a birdie on the final hole and won the largest check of his life, $108,000, with a solo finish in second at 270.

Dan Forsman and Ben Crenshaw, both very much in the title hunt until Blake's decisive putts on 15 and 17, finished third and fourth, respectively.

Forsman, the defending title-holder, shot 68-271. Crenshaw, who damaged his chances with consecutive bogeys early in the day, was 69-272.

They were followed by Steve Pate, Jim Hallet and Robert Wrenn at 273. Hallet had a 70 over the last 18 holes and Wrenn 71.