Robert Garrigus held onto a narrow lead through three rounds at the 2014 Valspar Championship at Innisbrook, but his final-round collapse gave way to a dramatic finish.
Kevin Na, John Senden and Justin Rose all had strong performances on Saturday to remain near the top of the leaderboard at the end of Round 3. Rose also faltered on Sunday with the trophy on the line, as the tournament came down to Na and Senden, with the latter Aussie emerging victorious.
Read on to find out how the action unfolded throughout the week in what was yet another exciting event on the PGA Tour.
Day 4 Recap
A resume of mostly underachieving results for 42-year-old John Senden was bolstered in a big way with a clutch display down the stretch on Sunday's final round of the 2014 Valspar Championship.
Senden played a masterful final three holes—known as the "Snake Pit" due to their difficulty—birdieing the par-four 16th with a chip-in, holing a long birdie on the par-three 17th and nearly draining a long putt on the last before settling for par and a round of one-under 70.
|Pos.||Player||Rounds (Par 72)||Total|
That was good enough to win the tournament by one stroke over Kevin Na, who battled back after going out in three-over 39 with two birdies on the back, but his birdie putt on No. 18 hung on the low side the entire time.
This marks the second PGA Tour victory of Senden's career, which is surprising considering his talent level. Always considered one of the premier ball-strikers in the world, Senden hasn't translated that success to the winner's circle as often as has been expected—mostly because of his short game and putter.
PGA Tour Stats pointed out how that trend was changing even before this week that saw Senden also qualify for the Masters:
John Senden has vastly improved his strokes-gained putting on the PGA TOUR from 124th in 2013 to 11th in 2014 (entering this week).— PGA Tour Stats (@statsPGA) March 16, 2014
It definitely helps when a player who has flat iron demons doesn't have to putt. Senden alleviated that pressure when he chipped in from just in front of the green on No. 16, coming off a bogey at the par-three 15th:
Not long later, the putter came to the rescue for Senden—sending him to the 18th tee with plenty of momentum and giving him the confidence to make the necessary routine par:
Australian golf reporter Henry Peters congratulated his compatriot on the breakthrough, implying that it was a long time coming:
Na made things interesting by nearly acing the 17th with a brilliant tee shot. Since the greens were so firm, his ball didn't hold as well as he would've liked, necessitating a clutch putt to enter the last just one behind:
The end was anticlimactic for 54-hole leader Robert Garrigus, who fell apart with double bogeys at Nos. 3 and 6. A birdie at the par-five 14th was little consolation since he was well out of contention, and Garrigus closed with a 75 to finish four shots off the pace.
Former world No. 1 Luke Donald continued his reemergence with a stellar tie for fourth along with Garrigus, and the Englishman played the weekend in a total of five under with scores of 67 and 70 respectively. Donald could be a force as the major championship season approaches, and it was encouraging that he held up under blustery Sunday conditions under pressure.
Reigning U.S. Open champion Justin Rose birdied the par-five first hole but played his next 12 holes in five over par, sinking to joint eighth and ending on 74. An otherwise strong week should boost Rose's confidence after some injury difficulties of late, though.
A sizable contingent of young players played mostly disappointing golf, save for 20-year-old Italian phenom Matteo Manassero. The four-time European Tour winner didn't muster the magic necessary to make a Sunday run but did close with a 72 in tough conditions to tie for eighth along with Rose and others.
The PGA Tour's next stop is the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill beginning this coming Thursday. Eight-time event winner Tiger Woods is expected to headline yet another strong field, but his recurring back injury is giving him issues and preventing him from consistently playing at a high level.
Only two events remain between that exciting showcase and the Masters Tournament at Augusta National. It's going to be compelling to watch how the world's best are performing before their trip down Magnolia Lane.
Perhaps Senden can make a run at the green jacket after his victorious qualification at Innisbrook.
Day 3 Recap
Robert Garrigus kept his lead from the end of Round 2, but his pedestrian score of 70 allowed some others to remain within a few strokes of first place. Here is a look at the leaderboard after 54 holes:
Garrigus got off to a strong start with three birdies in his first five holes. This included two par-fives, which the American has performed well on throughout the tournament:
Robert Garrigus has birdied all 10 par 5s that he has played this week. Even par on everything else.— Ryan Lavner (@RyanLavnerGC) March 15, 2014
Unfortunately, he could not keep up this strong level of play with two bogeys on the back-nine. He struggled with his driving accuracy and it prevented him from adding more birdies. On a day where most of the field posted low scores, he missed an opportunity.
Kevin Na did a better job of taking advantage of good hole placements and finished with four birdies on the day. His best shot might have been this chip to birdie on No. 15:
Na has not done anything spectacular this tournament, but three solid rounds under par have him at seven-under, one stroke back going into the final day.
Retief Goosen was the biggest climber of the day thanks to his seven birdies to card a 64 in Round 3. The veteran climbed 59 spots to move into a tie for fifth place and become a legitimate contender heading into Sunday.
When asked if this was his best round of the year, Goosen responded, "Best round for the last few years for me," via Adam Schupak of Golf Week. The player added, "I seem to see the lines very good on the greens here, good feel for some of the shots required and hopefully tomorrow I can get something going."
John Senden also posted a 64 to move into third place, ahead of Justin Rose. However, Will Gray of Golf Channel notes the inexperience on top of leaderboard:
Could be some nerves Sunday in Tampa. Top three guys (Garrigus, Na, Senden) each have 1 career win (none since 2011) & none in Masters field— Will Gray (@WillGrayGC) March 15, 2014
This is certain to create an exciting final round at the Valspar Championship.
Day 2 Recap
The familiar faces from the top of the leaderboard after Day 1 were mostly absent when Round 2 had completed, as some surprise entrants to the fray were able to finish strong:
|Pos.||Player||Total||Round 2 Score|
Chief among those surprises was Garrigus, who had lost at the same course back in 2012 in a shootout. His three-shot lead was made in the closing holes on Friday thanks to birdies on No. 14 and 15, with the latter being an especially impressive shot:
In total, Garrigus shot six birdies on the day after starting the day one shot off the pace. As the championship's official Twitter account points out, Garrigus' day will go down in history:
Robert Garrigus has the largest 36-hole lead in tournament history after a 5-under 66. His 7-under total leads Kevin Na, in solo 2nd, by 3.— Valspar Championship (@ValsparChamp) March 14, 2014
Now 36 years old, it was only a month ago Garrigus revealed the secret to his stunning turnaround and recent success, as captured by Randall Mell of The Golf Channel:
“I changed my attitude,” Garrigus said.
And how did he manage that?
“I'm pretty strong mentally,” he said. “I guess I've dealt with a lot of things in my life that lead to that. I'm sure you all are very aware of that. I can will myself to do that. I have pretty good willpower.
Those looking to halt Garrigus' impressive momentum are Kevin Na, who sits in second after shooting a 68, and the four names tied at three-under—Matt Every, Matteo Manassero, Justin Rose and Pat Perez.
Will Garrigus hold his lead through the weekend?
Na is the most interesting of the group. He spent much of 2012 ranked in the top 50 before missing most of the 2013 season due to injury. He punched a bogey-free card on Friday and appears back to form.
That said, Garrigus has set an impressive pace and shows no signs of slowing down now that he has solved the riddle that is the Copperhead Course. His oft-times unmatched ability to stretch the course with long drives is something he used to his advantage on Friday, which he can also use to fend off the field through the weekend.
Meanwhile, John Daly had himself quite the impressive day to keep a running joke of a trend alive:
GOLF! John Daly shot a 90 today at Valspar Championship, good for NINETEEN over par. Daly has now carded a round of 80+ each yr since '91— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) March 14, 2014
Day 1 Recap
The third leg of the PGA's Florida tour started off with cold temperatures and wind gusts reaching 20 mph. Not only was it windy, but it was also coming in from a different direction than normal. The full leaderboard ended as such:
Golf Channel's Rex Hoggard helps explain the conditions:
According to caddies, north wind is not normal at Innisbrook. No. 1 playing into cold breeze. Scoring last yr @ 1st was 4.7. Today it's 5.04— Rex Hoggard (@RexHoggardGC) March 13, 2014
This made scoring—especially for the early players—difficult. In fact, just three players from the first wave managed to break 70.
Matt Every set the early mark by taking the clubhouse lead with a three-under 68. The 30-year-old teed off on No. 10 to start his round, and with one birdie and one bogey in his opening nine, it was a solid yet unspectacular start.
Every, who has yet to win a tour event, hit hole No. 6 still sitting at even. He birdied Nos. 6 through 8 to surge up the leaderboard. The below birdie from No. 8 capped his torrid stretch:
Still, Every is not going to overreact to his early success. Following his round, Every offered up this quote captured by Golf Channel's Jason Sobel:
I’ve played enough to know the first round doesn’t matter that much. This place is just going to be about not making doubles and taking yourself out of the tournament. You’re going to make bogeys just because there’s mud balls out there and the wind and then the greens, but I know that it’s not that big a deal.
Who will finish the highest?
Every's chances at winning this tournament can't be discounted. He's been playing well and already has three top-10 finishes in his nine starts this season.
Every's lead withstood the afternoon group, although he now has company at the top.
Pat Perez, Greg Chalmers and Danny Lee all fired 68s, as the scoring conditions were slightly better in the afternoon. Seven players from the afternoon group were able to break 70.
Meanwhile, David Lingmerth almost stole the show with this near ace:
Lingmerth could have used that one on his scorecard. He finished the day two over and tied for 70th.
This is an interesting group of leaders to say the least. They have just one tour win between them. That came from Pat Perez and it was back in 2009.
Combine that with the fact that there are 25 golfers under par after the first round, and this is setting up for a wide-open and wild tournament.