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Senden rallies late to win at Innisbrook, eyes Masters

By Doug Ferguson

PALM HARBOR, Florida -- 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.

“It feels good to do it again after seven years,” said Senden, who closed with a 1-under 70. “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. But he had a bogey-free 64 on Saturday to get back into contention and then finished it off in a 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.

Senden finished at 7-under 277, the third straight tournament on the U.S. PGA Tour Florida swing won with a single-digit score under par.

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

He nearly drove into the water on the 16th and escaped with par. He then 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 a 40-foot birdie putt to force a playoff never came close.

Na closed with a 72 and finished one shot behind.

“I knew coming into today that I felt like if I shot par I had a chance to win,” Na said. “If I break par, I felt like it was going to be a lock.”

He did neither, though his runner-up finish was his best PGA Tour result since he won in Las Vegas toward the end of the 2011 season.

Scott Langley, hitting superb shots to account for the wind, didn't hit a green over the final four holes and still managed to save par on three of them. The one bogey on the 16th hole, when he went long of the green from the middle of the fairway, proved costly.

Langley and David Hearn were the only players who shot par or better all four days. Langley closed with a 70 to finish alone in third.

Senden last won a tournament at the end of 2006 at the Australian Open. Earlier that year, he picked up his first PGA Tour win at the John Deere Classic. He didn't imagine going more than seven years until his next win.

“It's something that makes you believe more than you can get it done again, rather than just once and thinking back then in '06, 'Was it a flash in the pan?' I don't believe so,” Senden said. “But now it makes me feel (validated) from the John Deere.”

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