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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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard


On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry