John Senden ended more than seven years without a victory by making two late birdies, including a chip-in from 70 feet on the toughest hole at Innisbrook, for a one-shot victory on a wild and windy Sunday at the Valspar Championship.
Senden, two shots behind going into the final round, closed with a one-under 70 for his first PGA Tour win since the 2006 John Deere Classic. The timing could not have been better. The victory sends the 42-year-old Australian to the Masters next month.
Kevin Na had a long birdie putt on the final hole that would have forced a playoff, but it never came close.
“If I could just stay in the moment, I knew I was swinging well enough to give it a shake,” Senden said.
It took what he called a “magic shot” to shake loose from a traffic jam along the back nine of the Copperhead course. The tournament was up for grabs over the final two hours, with nine players separated by three shots at one point, and Senden part of a three-way tie for the lead heading into the treacherous, three-hole closing stretch at Innisbrook known as the “Snake Pit.”
He went birdie-birdie-par, and it took all he could muster.
After driving into the trees and playing short of the green on the 16th, Senden lofted a pitch with perfect pace and watched it tumble into the cup for one of only two birdies in the final round. Equipped with a one-shot lead, he followed that with a 20-foot birdie putt on the 17th.
Equally important was the par on the 18th, which was just as difficult as the birdies. He needed two putts up a ridge and breaking slightly to the right before it went swiftly down the slope and breaking to the left. The 40-foot putt settled inches from the cup.
Senden finished at seven-under 277, the third straight tournament on the Florida swing won with a single-digit score under par.
Na played in the final group and made sure pace of play was only a memory. He missed a three foot bogey putt late on the front nine that sent him plunging down a crowded leaderboard, but he played bogey-free on the back nine and came up with a key par save from six feet on the 16th and a 15 foot birdie putt on the 17th to get within one. However, his pitching wedge on the 18th was too strong, and his birdie putt never had a chance.
He closed with a 72.
Scott Langley, hitting superb shots to account for the wind, did not 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 was the only player who shot par or better all four days. He closed with a 70 to finish alone in third.
Robert Garrigus started the final round with a one-shot lead, and that did not 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 four-under.
Senden last won a tournament at the end of 2006 in the Australian Open.