Verplank Earns Fifth Win at His Fifth Major

By Associated PressApril 29, 2007, 4:00 pm
2007 EDS Byron Nelson ChampionshipIRVING, Texas -- Scott Verplank dropped into a squatting position and looked skyward, almost in disbelief -- and to say thanks.
 
Finally, after so many tries, Verplank won the tournament he's always wanted to win. This victory at home was for the late Byron Nelson.
 
Scott Verplank
Scott Verplank looks to the sky alongside with Nelson's widow, Peggy. (WireImage)
'There's no question in my mind that the stars lined up and I got a little help from upstairs. I just haven't been playing that good,' Verplank said. 'I think Byron had a hand in this week.'
 
Verplank, who as a teenager growing up in Dallas got to know Nelson and play several rounds with the former star, used three straight birdies and an incredible par save from a bunker at No. 17 to win the first EDS Byron Nelson Championship played without its namesake.
 
When his final 2-foot par putt at No. 18 dropped Sunday for a one-stroke victory over Luke Donald, Verplank no longer had to hold his emotions. After initially dropping his head into his hands, he looked up with a smile on his face.
 
'I just kept saying, `Oh my gosh! I can't believe it!' I couldn't believe that it happened. It was a dream,' Verplank said. 'Then I looked up and said, `Thank you.' Incredible.'
 
Sadly missing was a personal congratulation from Nelson, who died Sept. 26 at age 94. But Nelson's wife, Peggy, was there clutching one of his famed fedoras in her hand when she hugged Verplank.
 
'Byron would be very, very happy for Scott. I am, too,' Peggy Nelson said. 'The friendship they had, it's great to see it culminate this way.'
 
In 1968, Nelson became the first golfer to have a PGA TOUR event named after him, and he would always greet players finishing their rounds at the 18th green before taking part in the award ceremony.
 
Verplank closed with a 4-under-66 for a 13-under 267 total, a stroke ahead of Donald (68) for his fifth PGA TOUR victory, his first since the 2001 Canadian Open. Phil Mickelson (65), Jerry Kelly (64), Rory Sabbatini (64) and Ian Poulter (66) tied for third at 10 under.
 
Clinging to a one-stroke lead, Verplank hit his tee shot at the 196-yard 17th hole into a bunker far away on the side opposite the hole. But he saved par -- and the long-desired championship -- after blasting to less than 2 feet.
 
Before hitting his final tee shot at No. 18, Verplank got an unexpected comforting feeling.
 
'I had some help there on the last hole. There's no doubt,' he said. 'I felt a cool breeze, and it wasn't cool out there.'
 
Verplank and Donald both drove their balls into the fairway and then had similar 10-foot birdie attempts that slid past the hole. After Donald putted out, Verplank did the same.
 
'I don't think it was a very good putt. I got an assist and it went in,' Verplank said. 'I'm not sure I knew where I was at.'
 
This victory was much more valuable to Verplank than the $1.134 million check and a custom-made motorcycle built by Orange County Choppers.
 
It was the 21st Nelson tournament for the 42-year-old Verplank, who considers the event his fifth major because of the man for which it's named -- and who used to write him encouraging notes. Verplank once was a standard bearer at the tournament, where his mother was a volunteer.
 
Donald's 12th straight under-par round at the Nelson wasn't enough to overcome Verplank's apparent destiny this week.
 
The sore shoulder that has bothered Verplank for so long, the same problem that forced him to withdraw from last year's tournament that was the last attended by Nelson, was never an issue this week.
 
'It went away. I'm serious,' Verplank said, shaking his head. 'I didn't feel any pain.'
 
Donald started the day up by one stroke. His lead had grown to three after his 12-foot putt at the 438-yard sixth hole, his third birdie in a four-hole stretch.
 
'I was feeling really good about my game,' Donald said.
 
But No. 6 was the same hole where Verplank began his birdie run with a 5-footer. Verplank was within a stroke at 12 under after chipping to 2 feet for birdie at the 533-yard seventh hole and making a 12-footer at No. 8. Things went wrong for Donald at the ninth hole.
 
Donald's drive at the 439-yard hole went into the trees on the left and his approach shot from there wound up in the rough to the right of the green. The Englishman hit his next shot over the green and left his chip 12 feet short before his bogey putt skidded past the hole.
 
'That was the difference,' said Donald, also a runner-up at the Sony Open in Hawaii in mid-January. 'I will look at the positive, but right now I'm very disappointed. ... It's not much fun finishing second.'
 
Even though Verplank missed his 8-foot birdie attempt at No. 9, he was in the lead -- and stayed there.
 
Verplank made a 13-foot birdie putt at No. 11, curled a 16-foot birdie attempt just over the top of the hole at No. 12 and then made a 23-foot putt at the 183-yard 13th to get to 14 under -- four strokes ahead of Donald.
 
Verplank missed the fairway and had bogey at No. 15, then had to settle for par after finding a greenside bunker at the 554-yard 16th -- the easiest hole on the course. Donald blasted out of a bunker to 4 feet for his birdie that got him back within a stroke.
 
The closest Verplank had come to winning the Nelson before was in 2001 when he lost a four-hole playoff with Robert Damron. That was the first of three top-10 finishes the last six tournaments.
 
Mickelson, in his first tournament since the Masters and with Butch Harmon as his instructor, had two chip-in birdies the first seven holes.
 
Mickelson came up only inches short of another chip in at No. 8, then hit his approach to 3 feet at No. 9 for a birdie to get to 9 under. But he couldn't keep up his charge on the back nine.
 
Sabbatini, who tied for second at the Masters, finished the Nelson with three straight birdies -- and noticed the obvious void at No. 18 without Nelson.
 
'Obviously, very strange. It's sad, he was a great man,' Sabbatini said. 'Not enough can be said about him. Obviously, he's dearly missed.'
 
Divots:
The last person to win consecutive Nelsons was Tom Watson, who won three in a row from 1978-80. Defending champion Brett Wetterich, a stroke off the lead before a third-round 72, closed with a 67 to finish at 273. ... Sean O'Hair missed his fifth straight top-15 finish this season because of a double bogey on the closing hole that put him at 276. He led after a first-round 65, but shot a 74 on Saturday.
 
Related Links:
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    McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

    By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

    One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

    McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

    It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

    McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

    Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

    Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

    Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

    The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

    The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

    Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

    The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

    A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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    Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

    Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

    Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

    South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

    Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

    The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.

     

     

    Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

    By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

    It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

    Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

    Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

    "We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."


    Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout


    Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

    Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.