Thursday, May 24, 2018

John Senden wins PGA Tour's Valspar Championship

PALM HARBOR — Standing on the 16th tee during the final round of the Valspar Championship, John Senden was tied for the lead with Scott Langley. Several other players were right on his heels, so if Senden was going to make a move on Innisbrook's Copperhead Course, he had to calm his nerves and tame the three-hole track known as the "Snake Pit."

Senden chipped in for birdie on the par-4 16th, followed that with a 21-foot birdie putt on the par-3 17th and calmly tapped in for par on the par-4 18th for a round of 1-under 70 Sunday and a total of 7-under 277.

When Kevin Na missed a long birdie putt on the 18th green 15 minutes later, Senden won by a shot and let out a big sigh of relief. For the 42-year-old Australian, it was his first win since the 2006 John Deere Classic. He got a check for $1,026,000.

"I've been doing a lot of things great, but it's about continuing to believe that I can do it," Senden said. "This weekend was a chance for me to show that. My short game came through."

Senden began the day two shots behind leader Robert Garrigus and in the second-to-last group. With many players struggling in windy conditions, he played a steady round. He had two birdies and a bogey on the front nine and made the turn at 7 under.

That score led the tournament thanks to bad starts by Garrigus and Na, who started the day one back. After pars on 10 and 11, Senden bogeyed two straight holes before birdieing the par-5 14th to get back to 6 under.

"I was starting to get some of those bad feelings," he said. "That (birdie) putt on 14 eased the tension. That was a turning point on the back nine for me."

A bogey on the 15th dropped him to 5 under. That set up his dramatic finish.

Senden's drive on 16 hit the trees to the right and dropped down in the rough. His approach shot landed in the rough, 22 yards from the hole. He then chipped in for an unlikely birdie.

"I felt like I hit a really good second shot to get it near the green," Senden said. "I knew I needed to have a really good chip if I was going to have a chance to do something down the stretch. It came out well, so I thought it would be in a reasonably good spot. When it disappeared (in the hole), it was amazing."

Senden drained a 21-footer for birdie on the 17th that gave him a two-shot cushion over Na and Langley. He hit a two-iron just off the narrow 18th fairway. His approach was 38 feet from the hole. He lagged it to 5 inches and tapped in.

Na made things interesting when he birdied the 14th to get to 5 under and birdied the 17th to get to 6 under. His tee shot on 17 landed right next to the hole.

"Right when I hit it, I was hoping it would come down soft," Na said. "It was going right at it. I thought for a split second that it was going in the hole."

Na said he knew he had to birdie 18 to force a playoff. His approach shot from the secondary rough landed 40 feet past the hole. His birdie putt was offline from the start as he settled for par and 1-over 72. It was his best finish in 10 tournaments at Innisbrook.

"I felt like if I shot par, I could win," Na said. "If I break par, I thought it would be a lock. I gave myself a chance, but I happened to be one shot short."

Garrigus had two double bogeys and a bogey on the front nine and finished 4-over 75 and three shots back of Senden.

Senden is now eligible to play in the Masters. He is the oldest player to win on the PGA Tour this season.

He has four second-place finishes since his 2006 win, including two at Innisbrook. Sunday's win gives him a confidence boost.

"It makes you believe more that you can get it done," he said. "It makes me feel like it's not a flash in the pan."