Look Whos Back

By Brian HewittOctober 8, 2007, 4:00 pm
2006 Valero Texas OpenJustin Leonard, four shots back of leader Jesper Parnevik going into Sundays final round of the Valero Texas Open, knew the drill.
In 1997 when he won the Kemper Open he was five shots back of leader Mark Wiebe going into Sundays final round. He shot 67 and won the golf tournament.
Later that same year Leonard again found himself five shots back of, this time, Parnevik going into Sundays final round. He shot 65 and won the British Open.
The following year at The PLAYERS Leonard, one more time, trailed the leader (Lee Janzen) by five going into Sundays final round. This time he fired a sizzling 67 and won again.
So it came as no surprise'least of all to Leonard and Parnevik'that Little Justin fashioned a tight 65 Sunday in Texas Sunday and then ran down Parnevik on the third hole of a playoff.
Leonard has now won 11 times on the PGA TOUR. Hes 35 years old. Hes married and the father of three. And hes no longer little Justin, the youngish looking fresh face out of Texas who fearlessly stepped right out of amateur golf and onto golfs big stages in his early and mid-20s.
In fact, Leonard was starting to look a little long in the competitive tooth earlier this year when he missed his first six cuts. It hadnt been that long ago that Leonard had won twice in 2005.
But an ingredient was missing. Leonard had gone to Butch Harmon and done some good work. He had needed to get longer off the tee to keep up with golfs new generation of bombers. And he and Harmon had made progress.
Then at Bay Hill in March Leonard began seeing his former coach, the estimable Randy Smith, again. He had gotten what he needed from Harmon and there were things in his swing that Smith knew best.
Soon Leonard was starting to feel and look like the Justin Leonard of the late '90s. But the putter was holding him back. Hes been hitting the ball well now for two and a half months, Smith told me last week.
At Valero the flat stick magic finally returned. Leonard made just two bogeys in 72 holes. When hes striking the ball crisply and rolling it on the greens, hes a force. Its a little bit like the football team that passes to set up the run. When Leonards stacking his approaches to 10 feet and inside, it sets up his putting/running game.
And now he suddenly finds himself on the list of players U.S. Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger must start tracking more closely in the long run-up to next years Ryder Cup in Louisville.
You can never have too much putting, the axiom goes, in the Ryder Cup. Which is why Leonard could fit in quite nicely that way on a team that included Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker, a healthy Chris DiMarco and a still-underrated David Toms. All of those players roll their rock like a dream.
Heady stuff for Justin Leonard, a player who had verged on being mostly-forgotten the last couple of years. To be sure, his climb back into the games elite is still a bit uphill.
But he has now done something no other Texan has done. Not Hogan, Nelson, Trevino, Kite or Crenshaw. He has won the Texas Open'now called the Valero Texas Open'three times.
Actually only one other man has accomplished that feat. And that player is an outlander from Pennsylvania. Guy named Arnold Palmer.
You know, Justin Leonard said late Sunday when reminded of the Palmer connection. Thats pretty special.
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