Late birdies help Senden win Valspar Championship

By Doug FergusonMarch 16, 2014, 10:22 pm

PALM HARBOR, Fla. - More than seven years without a victory. A trip to Augusta National riding on the outcome. A three-way tie for the lead going into a daunting three-hole closing stretch called ''The Snake Pit'' on the Copperhead Course of Innisbrook.

John Senden was trying to keep his mind off all of that Sunday in the Valspar Championship.

The finish will be hard for him to forget.

Senden chipped in for birdie from 70 feet on the 16th hole, one of only two birdies in the final round at the toughest hole on the course. He followed that with a 20-foot birdie putt to build a two-shot lead, then made it tough for Kevin Na to catch him with perfect pace on a 40-foot putt on the 18th that left him only a tap-in for par.

Senden closed with a 1-under 70 and had enough strength left to hoist a trophy he said felt like 50 pounds.

''I didn't turn my phone on because I know there's going to be 4,000 messages,'' Senden said. ''It feels good to do it again after seven years. Lot of good things to come.''

One of them is next month - the Masters.

The 42-year-old Australian was No. 123 in the world and his only hope of returning to Augusta National for a third straight year was to win. That didn't look likely after opening with rounds of 71-72, leaving him in the middle of the pack. He had a bogey-free 64 on Saturday to get back into contention, then closed it off on a wild and windy final round with Innisbrook as tough as it had been all week.

''If I could just stay in the moment, I knew I was swinging well enough to give it a shake,'' Senden said.


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Na recovered from an atrocious finish to his front nine - including a double bogey when he missed a 3-foot putt - to make it interesting. He nearly drove into the water on the 16th and escaped with par. He holed a 15-foot birdie putt on the 17th to get within one shot. But his pitching wedge out of the first cut of rough on the 18th hole sailed long, and 40-foot birdie putt to force a playoff never came close.

Na closed with a 72 and finished one shot behind.

''I knew coming into today that I felt like if I shot par I had a chance to win,'' Na said. ''If I break par, I felt like it was going to be a lock.''

He did neither, though his runner-up finish was his best PGA Tour result since he won in Las Vegas toward the end of the 2011 season. And there were no issues with pace of play that brought Na the wrong kind of attention - again - on Saturday.

Senden finished at 7-under 277, the third straight tournament on the Florida swing won with a single-digit score under par.

Scott Langley, hitting superb shots to account for the wind, didn't hit a green over the final four holes and still managed to save par on three of them. The one bogey on the 16th hole, when he went long of the green from the middle of the fairway, proved costly.

Langley and David Hearn were the only players who shot par or better all four days. Langley closed with a 70 to finish alone in third.

Robert Garrigus started the final round with a one-shot lead, and that didn't last long. His tee shot on the third hole bounced off a lawn chair and against a tree, leading to a double bogey. He made another double bogey on No. 6 and went out in 41. And he went 26 holes without a birdie. By the time he made a birdie, it was too late. Garrigus, now 0-4 with at least a share of the 54-hole lead, had a 75 to tie for fourth at 4 under.

''I know what I'm not going to be doing next year - fishing,'' said Garrigus, who figures he caught three dozen large-mouth bass this week. ''I'm going to bring a damn chainsaw out to the place and cut a few trees down. I kept hitting it behind them all day. I just didn't get any breaks.''

Will MacKenzie ran off four birdies in a five-hole stretch around the turn and closed with a 69. He tied for fourth with Luke Donald (70) and Garrigus.

Justin Rose had five bogeys over seven holes in the middle of his round and shot 74, a disappointing day for the world's No. 7 player who had started the final round just three shots out of the lead. In a fitting end, he missed a 4-foot birdie putt on his last hole.

Senden last won a tournament at Royal Sydney at the end of 2006 in the Australian Open. Earlier that year, he picked up his first PGA Tour win at the John Deere Classic. He didn't imagine going more than seven years until his next win.

''It's something that makes you believe more than you can get it done again, rather than just once and thinking back then in '06, 'Was it a flash in the pan?' I don't believe so,'' Senden said. ''But now it makes me feel (validated) from the John Deere.''

DIVOTS: Mark Calcavecchia withdrew after nine holes with sickness. His wife (and caddie) said he couldn't keep food down and was feeling dizzy. He was treated by the medical staff with fluids. ... Chesson Hadley made a 30-foot birdie putt on his last hole Friday to make the cut on the number. He followed with rounds of 67-71 and tied for 14th, a week after winning the Puerto Rico Open for his first PGA Tour title. ... Hearn tied for eighth at 2 under. The Canadian shot 71-70-70-71.

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson. 

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.