For most of this week, the Copperhead course at Innisbrook Country Club lived up to its challenging reputation. Unlike so many other tournaments that turn into putting contests and birdie bonanzas, many players were just happy to be breaking par.
In fact, the day with the lowest scoring was Saturday, “moving day” in PGA Tour lingo. While Robert Garrigus and Kevin Na spent much of the weekend near the top of the leaderboard, it seems only fitting that the eventual winner was the one who made the most of the scoring opportunities that the early third-round conditions afforded.
John Senden, a 42-year-old journeyman pro from Australia, jumped from 35th place on Saturday all the way to third as the leaders stalled, and when Garrigus and Na gave back a bunch of strokes early on Sunday, Senden was more than happy to pick up the pieces and run with it.
Just fourteen players finished under par on Sunday, a testament to just how tough the conditions were at Innisbrook. So while the initial appearance is that Senden just had to let the leaders come back to him, don’t let that scoreboard confuse you. Senden earned every bit of this win.
“If I could just stay in the moment, I knew I was swinging well enough to give it a shake,” Senden told the Associated Press after the win. Of course, that might have been a little more difficult considering all that was on the line.
With how good these players are, it’s easy to forget just how tough winning a golf tournament is. Senden’s last victory came in 2006 at the Australian Open, and while he had shown some improvement from a rough 2013 campaign, this was his last chance to earn his way into the 2014 Masters Tournament, as he was only ranked 123rd in the world.
That makes the back-to-back birdies on the infamous “Snake Pit” that much bigger. With no margin for error, Senden came up with some clutch shots, including a 70-foot chip-in on No. 16 and a long birdie on 17, that were enough to send him to Augusta National with a shot at the year’s first major.
The old saying is that you can’t win a tournament on the first day, and Senden did what it took by surviving to the weekend and then playing absolutely lights-out golf. That’s an entertaining win under any conditions.