John Senden fired a final round, one-under-par 70 to defeat American Kevin Na by one shot. American Scott Langley rounded out the podium in third alone one more shot back. Senden’s four day total of seven-under, 277 was the highest winning score since 2008 when Sean O’Hair posted 280 at the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort. Breezy conditions added to the bite of one of the toughest courses on TOUR. This is Senden’s first victory on TOUR since he captured the 2006 John Deere Classic. It’s his first victory worldwide since his triumph in November of 2006 at the Australian Open.
AUSSIE AUSSIE AUSSIE!
Adam Scott won at Augusta last year. Jason Day won at the WGC-Match Play. Now, John Senden keeps the momentum going after his victory on Sunday. Known as a ball-striker on TOUR it was his putter and chipping that pushed him over the finish line on a blustery winter day in Tampa. First, he holed a 68-foot chip on the opening hole of the Snake Pit, No. 16, for a birdie after an errant tee shot. After an excellent tee shot on No. 17, the par-three, he holed a 22-footer for a two-shot lead at the time and plenty of breathing room entering the final hole. After completing two putts from 37’ on the final hole, Senden signed for a very solid one-under 70 to hold the clubhouse lead. The trophy was his once Kevin Na’s birdie chance went longing a few minutes later.
Senden made the cut by posting one-over 143 but it was his round on Saturday that announced his intentions on the weekend. He posted a bogey-free 64 that included seven birdies early on Saturday that put him in the penultimate group on Sunday. That 64 ended up being the low round of the tournament (Retief Goosen) and just the momentum that he needed to make a run on Sunday. His calling card is hitting most every fairway and GIR but Sunday, his putting and chipping carried him to victory. He only hit 38% of the fairways and 55% of the greens in a nervy final round. He only converted 25% of his chances out of the sand as well. When the money was on the table in the Snake Pit, he cashed in his chips and those were the shots that meant the most. Big pressure, windy weather and a jam-packed leader board wasn’t couldn’t shake Senden. He finished the week T2 in birdies with 17 and was T8 with only eight bogeys. His T3 in GIR was hardly surprising but his T12 putts per GIR and T16 strokes gained-putting is what put him back in the winner’s circle this week.
If asked before the season started who I thought would be the first 40-something to cash a big check this year, John Senden wouldn’t have been in my top 10 choices. Entering the week, Jim Furyk, K.J. Choi and Retief Goosen were probably gaining the most attention from gamers looking for experience and know-how on this difficult track. For those of you who read the “Horses for Courses” section saw that Senden had back-to-back T2s in 2007-8 and added T15 in 2011. But with only one top 25 (T18 at Riviera) in five starts to open 2014 it’s understandable to see why he wasn’t receiving much attention this week. For those of you who dug in a bit noticed that he had a second round 63 on a very difficult PGA National Course at The Honda Classic. Those of you encouraged by that couldn’t possibly have ignored his other three rounds that week were two-over or worse.
Moving forward, we need to remember that Senden currently ranks 12th in the all-around ranking, 13th in total putting and 11th in strokes gained-putting. Oh, and he’s 22nd in ball-striking. This is a great example of why stats don’t tell the entire story! I’ll take a look at the Aussie on tough, ball-striking courses where par is a good score. Although his numbers tell a different story at this juncture, I’m not going to load up on him for putting contests.
After 25 starts in 2013 that resulted in nine missed cuts, zero top 10s and only three top 25s, there’s a reason that gamers have been cautious around Senden. Not many early 40-somethings have swings in their career moving in the POSITIVE direction but Senden now has a T4 at McGladrey and a WIN at Valspar in 10 events this season. He’s the exception rather than the rule.
With this victory, Senden collects $1,026,000, 500 FedExCup Points and joins his mates Jason Day and Adam Scott at the Masters in April.
Déjà vu All Over Again?
After winning 31 of 40 tournaments in 2013, the USA has now won the first 16 of 18 events of 2013-14. Harris English, Jimmy Walker (THREE), Webb Simpson, Ryan Moore, Dustin Johnson, Chris Kirk, Zach Johnson, Patrick Reed (TWO), Scott Stallings, Kevin Stadler, Bubba Watson, Russell Henley and Chesson Hadley have collected the hardware this year for the stars and stripes. John Senden joins Jason Day as only Australia is representing the rest of the world.
Jimmy Walker and Kevin Stadler remain the only first-time winners this season. There were 12, first-timers in 40 events last year.
Only 17 of the 38, 54-hole leaders went on to win last year in full-field, stroke play events. I’m always trying to figure out if this is a trend or not. In 2013-14 nine of 17 leaders have gone on to win on Sunday. That was not the case this week as Robert Garrigus failed to convert the fourth, 54-hole lead of his career. He now has three seconds and a T4.
Defending champion Kevin Streelman finished T38 so no repeat champion again this year. There has never been a champion to defend at Innisbrook.
Young Guns versus Prime Time versus Old Guys
Jimmy Walker (34) started the season out on the right foot for the Prime Time guys and was joined by Ryan Moore (30) in Malaysia and Zach Johnson (37) at Kapalua, Kevin Stadler (33), at WMPO and Bubba Watson, 35, joined them at Riviera. Walker has now added TWO more victories to the guys currently in their prime!
Scott Stallings (28), Patrick Reed TWICE (23), Chris Kirk (28), Webb Simpson (28), Dustin Johnson (29), Harris English (24), Jason Day (26) and Russell Henley (24) are the twenty-somethings on the board. That’s nine wins from 18 events this year from the up-and-comers!
Finally! Breakthrough! The 40-something-“Old Guys” have broken their 2013-14 maiden as John Senden has entered the winner’s circle.
What I learned from the finishers in the top 10 this week
Kevin Na: Every time he plays we have to hear about slow play. I get it. He’s slow. The jokes are dead. He’s never penalized. Can we just all agree to squash this and move on until SOMETHING happens? Ok, cool. Now, fantasy gamers could care less about slow play. They care about PAY and Na has been paying off since his return from a neck injury that sidelined him last spring. He’s now posted four top 10s since the beginning of 2013-14 and this solo second in his best finish since his win in Las Vegas in 2011. He did it by holing every putt he looked and avoiding bogeys. His first bogey was on his 46th hole of the week. He didn’t miss a putt inside 10 feet until hole No. 8 on SUNDAY! His three bogeys and 57 pars led the field this week. He was T14 in GIR and was T15 in strokes gained-putting. He now has T4, MC and solo second in his last three starts on TOUR. Looks like the month of rest he had after the MC at Riviera did him some good!
Scott Langley: The 2010 NCAA Individual champ from Illinois finished T3 in his first event as a pro in the 2013 Sony Open. His best finish in his next 37 events was T18 this January at Humana. He closed with 65 last weekend in Puerto Rico so that was a clue he was close to finding his way. Don’t forget that he’s also finished T16 at the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and T29 at the 2012 U.S. Open at Olympic Club so hard courses are right up his alley. The lefty held his nerve awfully well this weekend as he came home Saturday with 31 and saved par twice from off the green on his final two holes Sunday to collect his biggest check yet. Look for him again to tough, tight courses where short games carry weight.
Will MacKenzie: Should I just copy and paste from last week? He was the first to the clubhouse at four-under on Sunday and the way things were going at the time, I would have taken that without question. In five of his last six starts on TOUR have been T13 or better and this is the third top 10. It’s also his second in a row (Honda). His week was an excellent balance as his T12 GIR led to fourth in putts per GIR and a tournament-best 18 birdies. This is now 11 events played this season. This is NOT a test. MacKenzie needs to be accounted for if he’s in the field, period.
Luke Donald: He loves it here. Stop overthinking it. He’s played this event four times. He’s finished T6, WIN, T4 and T4 again this year. His new swing changes are finding more fairways and his short game is still awesome. This course was the scene of his last win on TOUR (2012) but his game is moving in the right direction after a very slow start to the new season. His putter had three great days from four and only made two bogeys on the weekend. He was my OAD this week so it’s nice to get back into the top five! It had been a while. Shut up.
Robert Garrigus: Gamers, he told the TV world before he teed off on Sunday that he was going to be nervous but he was going to embrace that nervousness. For the fourth time as the 54-hole leader, Garrigus has not been able to close the deal. It’s not easy and these guys are good. His nervousness led to a bogey, two doubles and no birdies as he went out in 41 and his one-shot lead was toast. He had a clean card on the back nine with one birdie and eight pars to claim T4. Garrigus at one point was 10-under and had birdied every par five but one. He then went 27 holes without birdie which allowed the field to catch and eventually pass him up. There is no question that ball-striking is his forte. It’s the putter that usually causes concern. His T4 this week was his best finish since last year’s T5 at Match Play. He went 26 events between top 10s and most of his successes are usually on the West Coast. He now has T2, MC and T4 in his last three in Tampa so it’s time to add him to the “Horse-for-Course” list.
George McNeill: A 2008 T2, with John Senden, wasn’t enough to push McNeill into the upper echelon this week but his recent form will have me taking a closer look the next time he tees it up. He now has two top 10s in eight events at Innisbrook with his solo seventh this week. In his last four events on TOUR he’s racked up T6, T12, T19 and solo seventh. #mayjahfiyah
Graham DeLaet: The man with his own section in the preview column came good this week as his 68-71-68 final three rounds cancelled out his opening round 75. Puma, who outfits MacKenzie and DeLaet, should be happy this week with a pair of top 10s! The Canadian finally broke back into the top 10 this week as he was T2 in putts per GIR. He also was T4 in birdies so this momentum should carryover. Keep him on your radar for Valero.
Gary Woodland: The 2011 Valspar champ reinforced to this season’s gamers that his game is in pretty solid shape with his T8 this week. It also reinforced that he’s a factor on this course with two top 10s in four tries. Now that he’s buddies with Greg Norman and continues to work with Butch Harmon I can’t see his ceiling. That’s good news for season-long gamers and week-to-week players as well.
Matt Every: The Floridian has racked up finishes of T6 at Riviera, T24 at Honda and T8 this week on three of the toughest non-major venues on TOUR. The knock on Every in fantasy land in the past has been his consistency. This season, he’s played in nine of 10 weekends and has four top 10s and six top 25s. That’s what gamers have been looking for since he had two seconds in 2012. His T8 was his first finish in four starts at Innisbrook. #streakbroken
David Hearn: He’s the Canadian Matt Every!!! Hearn finished T6 at Riviera, T24 at Honda and T8 this week as well. He also had MC in his two previous trips. His worse round of golf in his last three tournaments is 71. He led the field in fairways and made a ton of pars. Gamers, when guys are playing well, it’s time to write down their names. Sometimes players only have three or four weeks in a row when they are peaking so it’s time to fire with them! McNeill, Every and Hearn are perfect examples of riding hot hands!
Matteo Manassero: He’s 20. He’s won four times on European Tour. He made the cut at every major before he was 20. I’m not writing in Italian but the translation would be HE GOT GAME. He’s a fairway finder and a very good putter but struggles with distance off the tee. His T12 at Honda was his previous best finish on TOUR but after 76-76-74-79 last week at Doral, it’s easy to see why he was left off this week. He now has this T8 and T20 in two trips to Tampa. #alliteration
Justin Rose: After reading that his shoulder was 95% entering this week, I was interested to see how this would translate. Rosey entered the day just three back but after four chunks and three short putts missed that kept him from finishing higher up the leader board. He’s close but I’m giving him another week before putting him back into my line up. He just looked a bit disjointed when chasing guys with no pedigree Sunday. It was there for the taking.