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 in Palm Harbor, Fla.
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 2-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 Tournament.
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.
Na 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 1 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 1 shot behind.
Senden finished at 7-under 277.
Scott Langley was the only player who shot par or better all four days. He closed with a 70 to finish alone in third.
Fred Couples won the Toshiba Classic for his 10th Champions Tour title, birdieing the final two holes for a 1-stroke victory.
The 54-year-old Couples shot a 5-under 66 to finish at 15-under 198 at Newport Beach Country Club in California. Also the 2010 winner, he made a 4-foot birdie putt on the par-3 17th and holed another 4-footer on the par-5 18th.
Colin Montgomerie, Bernhard Langer and Steve Pate tied for second. Langer had a chance to force a playoff, but missed a 20-foot birdie try on 18 and settled for a 70.
Montgomerie had a 62, the best round of the week, and Pate shot a 66.
Couples became the second two-time winner in tournament history. Hale Irwin won in 1998 and 2002.
Langer’s approach on No. 18 ended up left of the green up against a hospitality tent. After a drop, he chipped 20 feet past the hole and his birdie putt missed on the left side.
Mark O’Meara, Michael Allen, Kenny Perry, Jeff Hart and Scott Dunlap tied for fifth at 13 under. O’Meara closed with a 64, Allen had a 67, Hart and Dunlap shot 68, and Perry had a 69.
Alejandro Canizares of Spain completed a wire-to-wire victory at the Trophee Hassan II in Morocco by shooting a 2-under 70 in the final round for a 5-stroke win. Leading after all four rounds, Canizares made six birdies and dropped 4 shots for a 19-under 269 total.
Andy Sullivan was second after shooting the lowest score of the day. The Englishman had 10 birdies and a bogey for a 63.
Magnus Carlsson of Sweden carded a 68 to share third place with Seve Benson of England (71) at 276.
Sullivan started the final round in 15th place. But he holed seven birdies on the back nine for his best result this season since a fifth-place finish at the Joburg Open in February.