Rookie Recovery: Vegas Makes Most of Bob Hope Breaks

Jhonnathan Vegas wins the Bob Hope Classic in only his 5th start on the PGA Tour (Photo: Getty Images)
Jhonnathan Vegas wins the Bob Hope Classic in only his 5th start on the PGA Tour (Photo: Getty Images)

One thing is for sure on the PGA Tour, when you stumble down the stretch at an event like the Bob Hope Classic the normal order of the day is that you get run over.  There are rarely any second chances.

For rookie Jhonnatan Vegas (64-67-67-66-69-333) he was afforded a rare opportunity Sunday after a bogey on the 90th hole in regulation appeared to reduce his chances of an almost certain win.  Forced into extra holes the 26 year-old Venezuelan native responded on the second extra hole by canning a critical 13-foot putt for par and quickly establishing an early leader for Rookie of the Year honors. The notable putt came on the heels of dunking his tee shot in the water hazard down the left side of the hole.  In doing so he knocked off defending champion Bill Haas, who was eliminated on the 1st playoff hole, and impressive Gary Woodland who was the final victim after he bunkered his approach on the 92nd hole and could not match Vegas’ par effort.

Haas had taken three putts on his final hole in regulation where one less stroke would have allowed him to be the first to win the tournament in back-to-back years since Johnny Miller pulled off the feat in the mid-70’s.

Although disappointed Haas was not heartbroken by his effort. “I did say that I wanted to get to 27 (under par), and if I had more holes left then great. But that’s the number I wanted to get to. And sure enough, after 16 holes, I was 27 and had two looks. I birdied 17 and 18 last year, and I could have easily done it this year. And if I 2-putt 18 here, I win.”

For Woodland, who regained full status on the PGA Tour at Q-School last December, this playoff loss was easily his best finish on the big tour where his past play was hampered by injury that shortened his 2009 season.   “It was a long day,” he told the media after completing his 92nd and final hole.  “Seemed like we were out there forever. I drove the ball well all day. I didn’t hit my irons as close as I wanted to, I thought I had some good numbers out there and didn’t hit some close shots in there. But I got on a little run there right before the turn and unfortunately on the back nine, I just couldn’t get any putts to go in.”  He added, “So it was a good week and I’ll build on this and move on.”

Despite a population of nearly 30 million people, Venezuela reportedly boasts less than twenty golf course making Vegas’ ascension to become a winner on the PGA Tour an improbable one.  But that is not to say there have not been signs that he was capable of such success so soon in his PGA Tour career.

Vegas made a big splash last year on the Nationwide Tour where he ended the season in 7th place on the money list, cashing in to the tune on $336,334 thanks to a win at the Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open and five other top ten finishes.

Even with his Nationwide success and a win at the 2010 Argentina Open (by 6 strokes over Andres Romero), nothing will transform Vegas’ life as much as this win at the Bob Hope Classic.  Not only does he win $900,000 but he earns a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour and a spot in The Masters this April.

“This is unbelievable,” said PGA Tour’s newest winner after completing play.  “It’s a dream come true.  “It’s something you dream about, but you have to make it happen.”

Canuck Watch: Stephen Ames was the only Canadian to make the 72-hole cut.  He finished in a tie for 33rd place at seventeen under par.

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