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.
 
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    Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

    By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

    Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

    Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.


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    “I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

    Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

    “I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

    But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

    “I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”

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    Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

    Hoylake in 2006.

    That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

    So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?


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    “I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

    With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

    “The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”

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    How will players game-plan for Carnoustie?

    By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:31 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Justin Thomas took a familiar slash with his driver on the 18th tee on Monday at Carnoustie and watched anxiously as his golf ball bounced and bounded down the fairway.

    Unlike the two previous editions of The Open, at what is widely considered the rota’s most demanding test, a particularly warm and dry summer has left Carnoustie a parched shade of yellow and players like Thomas searching for answers.

    Under the best circumstances, Carnoustie is every bit the unforgiving participant. But this week promises to be something altogether different, with players already dumbfounded by how far the ball is chasing down fairways and over greens.

    Brown is beautiful here at Royal Dark & Dusty.

    But then it’s also proving to be something of a unique test.

    Where most practice rounds at The Open are spent trying to figure out what lines are best off tees, this is more a study of lesser evils.

    Tee shots, like at the par-4 17th hole, ask multiple questions with few answers. On his first attempt, Thomas hit 2-iron off the tee at No. 17. It cleared the Barry Burn and bounded down the middle of the fairway. Perfect, right? Not this year at Carnoustie, as Thomas’ tee shot kept rolling until it reached the same burn, which twists and turns through both the 17th and 18th fairways, at a farther intersection.


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    “A hole like 17 in this wind, the trick is getting a club that will carry [the burn],” said Thomas, who played 18 holes on Monday with Tiger Woods. “If that hole gets downwind you can have a hard time carrying the burn and keeping it short of the other burn. It’s pretty bizarre.”

    The sixth hole can offer a similar dilemma, with players needing to carry their tee shots 275 yards to avoid a pair of pot bunkers down the right side of the fairway. Yet just 26 yards past those pitfalls looms a second set of bunkers. Even for the game’s best, trying to weave a fairway wood or long-iron into a 26-yard window can be challenging.

    “Six is a really hard hole, it really just depends on how you want to play it. If you want to take everything on and have a chance of hitting an iron into a par 5, or just kind of lay back and play it as a three-shot hole,” Thomas shrugged.

    It’s difficult to quantify precisely how short the 7,400-yard layout is playing. It’s not so far players are flying the ball in the air, particularly with relatively little wind in the forecast the rest of the week, so much as it is a question of how a particular shot will run out after it’s made contact with the firm turf.

    As the field began to get their first taste of the bouncy fun, one of the earliest indications something was askew came on Sunday when Padraig Harrington, who won The Open the last time it was played at Carnoustie in 2007, announced to the social world that he’d hit into the burn on the 18th hole.

    “This time it was the one at the green, 457 yards away,” the Irishman tweeted. “The fairways are a tad fast.”

    Most players have already resigned themselves to a steady diet of mid-irons off tees this week in an attempt to at least partially control the amount of run-out each shot will have.

    Jordan Spieth, the defending champion, hadn’t played a practice round prior to his media session, but could tell what’s in store just from his abbreviated range session on Monday. “Extremely baked out,” he said.

    The conditions have already led Spieth and his caddie, Micheal Greller, to conjure up a tentative game plan.

    “You might wear out your 5- and 4-irons off the tee instead of hitting 3- or 2-irons like you’re used to,” Greller told him.

    But even that might not be the answer, as Tommy Fleetwood discovered on Sunday during a practice round. Fleetwood has a unique connection with Carnoustie having shot the course record (63) during last year’s Dunhill Links Championship.

    The Englishman doesn’t expect his record to be in danger this week.

    In fact, he explained the dramatically different conditions were evident on the third hole on Sunday.

    “There’s holes that have been nothing tee shots, like the third. If you play that in the middle of September or October [when the Dunhill is played] and it’s green and soft, you could just hit a mid-iron down the fairway and knock it on with a wedge,” Fleetwood said. “Yesterday it was playing so firm, the fairways really undulate and you have bunkers on either side, it’s actually all of a sudden a tough tee shot.”

    The alternative to the iron game plan off the tee would be to simply hit driver, an option at least one long-hitter is considering this week if his practice round was any indication.

    On Sunday, Jon Rahm played aggressively off each tee, taking the ubiquitous fairway bunkers out of play but at the same time tempting fate with each fairway ringed by fescue rough, which is relatively tame given the dry conditions. But even that option has consequences.

    “It’s kind of strange where there’s not really a number that you know you’re going to be short,” said Fleetwood, who played his Sunday practice round with Rahm. “[Rahm] hit a drive on 15 that was like 400 yards. You just can’t account for that kind of stuff.”

    Whatever tactic players choose, this Open Championship promises to be a much different test than what players have become accustomed to at Carnoustie.

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    Fleetwood: Carnoustie course record won't help at Open

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 2:28 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tommy Fleetwood holds the competitive course record at Carnoustie, but he’s skeptical that his past experience will help him at The Open.

    Last fall, in the European Tour’s Dunhill Links Championship, Fleetwood birdied six of his last eight holes to card a bogey-free, 9-under 63, the lowest score ever at what is widely considered to be the most difficult course in the Open rota.

    No one expects a repeat this week at Carnoustie – not with the conditions this brown, firm and fast.

    “It’s a completely different course,” Fleetwood said Monday. “Shots that you’ve hit have literally no relevance for a lot of it.


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    “It doesn’t do any harm to have played it for a few years. It doesn’t do any harm to have a course record, but it’s a completely different challenge to what we normally face.”

    Fleetwood took a much-needed two-week break after the French Open, deciding to withdraw from last week’s Scottish Open for a bit more time in his own bed. (He said it was his last full week at home until mid-October.) Since his sparkling 63 to nearly steal the U.S. Open, the Englishman said that he’d “run out of steam” but now feels energized.  

    “There’s not really a good reason why I couldn’t do it (this week),” he said. “It really doesn’t matter what’s happened in the past. The only thing they could do is build your confidence and give you examples of what you can do – examples that you can end up there, and you have the game to compete.”