PALM HARBOR — Third time’s the charm for John Senden.
And for the 42-year old Australian, nearly eight years is a long time to wait. Yet, for Senden, it was all worth it after he finished 7 under to capture the 2014 Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club. Senden not only tamed the Copperhead Course and its gusts of up to 40 mph, but he defeated Kevin Na by a stroke after shooting a 1-under 70 to win his first PGA Tour event since the 2006 John Deere Classic.
Senden, who had two runner-up finishes (2007-08) before Sunday, can credit a 68-foot chip-in birdie on arguably the toughest hole on the course: the par-4 16th. That hole, aptly named Moccasin, starts the infamous Snake Pit.
Senden then rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt on the 17th: The Rattler.
“(On 16), the ball just disappeared — was amazing — felt good,” Senden said. “I believe that when you have momentum going your way, you feel like you got some calmness going your way, too. … I just had to hang about and try to change the momentum somehow, and I guess my short game has been the difference in my scoring ability and putting myself in positions to win tournaments.
“(Winning again) is something that makes you believe that you can get it done again rather than, you know (just winning) once and then thinking back to (winning) in ‘06 (and thinking), ‘Was it something that was just a flash in the pan?’ I don’t believe so.”
Senden is third on the all-time money list ($1,956,899) at Copperhead in 11 appearances and takes home quite the winner’s package. Not only does Senden earn the highest purse at Innisbrook ($1.026 million), he earns a spot in the Masters next month, PGA Tour exemption status through the 2016 season and spots in the PGA Championship in August and the 2015 Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii.
Senden, who shot a 35 on the back nine with three birdies and three bogeys, also becomes the sixth different international winner and the first from Australia in the 14 years of this event. South Korean K.J. Choi and South African Retief Goosen have each won it twice.
Down the stretch, Na posed the biggest threat to catch Senden. Na hit an amazing tee shot on 17 that nearly resulted in an ace, but it came up 3 feet short for a tap-in birdie.
“I’m sure John was watching the leaderboard,” Na said. “That one-shot lead versus a two-shot lead is a little different. I knew he made par on 18, so I knew I needed a birdie.”
In fact, Senden left a birdie putt just more than a foot short from 51 feet on 18, the Copperhead. When Na got his approach shot to 41 feet for birdie, the pressure was on Na.
“It was nice to give myself a chance on 18, but (the approach) was a little flyer off the first cut, and a pitching wedge flew probably over 140 yards in the air,” Na said. “Probably needed to be closer to the pin there.”
Also on Senden’s heels was 24-year-old Scott Langley, who shot a 70 Sunday to finish 5 under to finish alone in third to match his best PGA finish (2013 Frys.com Open).
“Absolutely (tip my cap to John),” said Langley, who opened his final round with birdies on three of his first six holes. “It was right there for me, too, but (the course) is just tough. I mean, all day it was tough. …
“Man, I grinded and I played hard, but fell short. This will help me, I know. I’m a little bummed, but it will help me.”
Senden started the final round in third place after shooting a tournament best 7-under 64 on Saturday, which is impressive in itself after he shot a 1-over 72 in Round 1, then even par Friday.
His 1-over start Thursday was the highest score by an eventual winner since Scott Stallings shot a 72 in the Farmers’ Insurance Open.
On top of that, Senden’s final 7-under score was the highest winning score at Valspar since 2008, when Sean O’Hair won at 4-over.
“After two days, I was 1 over and feeling like I was getting a little bit, you know, busy with my mind out there, but trying to really concentrate on some good thoughts,” Senden said. “(The course) is a great test of golf.
“I love coming here, and a couple of runner-up finishes gives me confidence here, and to come out on top today was another dream come true.”