The Norman Transcript

Sports

March 17, 2014

Senden rallies late to win at Innisbrook

PALM HARBOR, Fla. — 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.

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 two-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.

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.

“If I could just stay in the moment, I knew I was swinging well enough to give it a shake,” Senden said.

Na recovered from an atrocious finish to his front nine — including a double bogey when he missed a 3-foot putt — to make it interesting. He 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 one 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.

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