Leonard fights off younger players for win at Texas Open

Posted: Monday, October 01, 2001

SAN ANTONIO -- Justin Leonard was all business in defending his title at the Texas Open. After his last putt dropped Sunday, though, there was a release of pent-up emotion.

Leonard's 2-under-par 69 was good enough to beat PGA Tour rookies J.J. Henry and Matt Kuchar by two strokes as he repeated at the LaCantera Golf Club course in the rocky hills north of San Antonio.

The Dallas native took home $540,000 for the win, his first in 31 starts dating to last year's event here. The 18-under 266 total gave him the sixth victory of his pro career.

He was the tournament's first repeat winner since Arnold Palmer won three in a row starting in 1960.

On the 18th green, the victory cheers from his large gallery of fans washing over him, Leonard shed tears that had been building since the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington.

''I wanted to say something about the patriotism I've seen this week and I just got choked up,'' he recounted later.

The attacks forced the postponement of the Ryder Cup matches in England until next year. Leonard was one of the heroes of the United States' victory in 1999.

''All of the flags, all of the patriotism you see throughout the country right now -- you didn't see that a month ago,'' he said. ''I think it's pretty special to win during this time and after what's going on and what we've all been through mentally and emotionally the last three weeks. It kind of all hit me right there on the green.''

A local favorite because of his ties to the University of Texas, Leonard strode to the 18th green flashing the ''Hook'em Horns'' sign to calls of ''Go UT!'' from the gallery, many clad in the school's distinctive burnt orange.

Henry, who had a 66 on Sunday, began the final round tied for third, five shots behind Leonard.

Playing in the threesome in front of Leonard, he was in a position to add some drama down the stretch, but he pushed a 4-foot birdie putt just to the right on the par-4 18th that would have cut the lead to one.

''When I made that birdie on 13, I really thought I could win this tournament,'' said Henry, who also finished second at the Kemper Open in May. ''I'm two shots behind with five holes to play and some birdie holes ahead.''

Kuchar, who was second alone when Sunday's round began, closed with a 69.

He had played himself back into contention with a third-round 64, but tumbled quickly Sunday by bogeying two of his first four holes.

''I was a little scared last night,'' he said.

He got back on track with birdies on 10, 12 and 14, but Leonard kept his distance.

Kuchar thinks his finish will be good enough to earn his tour card for next year.

''I might throw myself a little party next week,'' he said.

Bob Estes and Tommy Tolles tied for fourth at 13-under, one shot ahead of Steve Elkington and Kaname Yokoo.

For Leonard, success came by getting ahead early and then holding on against a changing roster of challengers.

After making 16 birdies in the first two rounds -- 10 on Friday alone -- he managed only seven over the final 36 holes.

On Sunday he was 2 under for the day after five holes before making eight straight pars. He birdied the par-5 14th, but gave the stroke back two holes later.

Henry got to 16-under and within two of Leonard on the par-3 13th with a bending 15-footer. Leonard, who could see the shot from the elevated tee, followed with a par and walked to the 14th tee with a straight-ahead stare from under the bill of his cap. The two matched birdies on the next hole before Leonard got the breathing room he needed on the 15th.

Henry ran a 50-foot putt past the hole and left his par attempt on the lip for a bogey 5. Leonard missed the green on his approach, but his short chip rolled within a foot for par and a three-shot lead.

Leonard bogeyed 16, but Henry missed his final chance to make it close when he missed the short putt on the 18th.

AFLAC Champions

MOBILE, Ala. -- South Korea's Se Ri Pak shot a final-round 71 and matched the tournament record with a 16-under 272 total in winning the ALFAC Champions.

Pak, who was coming off a five-week break, offset a bogey and double-bogey with four birdies at Magnolia Grove's Crossings Course and won her fifth tournament of the year.

Lorie Kane shot a 69 for an 11-under 277 total, five shots behind Pak. Kane, who started the final round seven strokes off the lead, had five birdies, including four straight on Nos. 9-13, in a late charge.

Grace Park shot a 70 and finished third at 9-under 279.

Pak earned $122,000 and tightened up the races for the LPGA's Player of the Year, Vare Trophy and money titles with Annika Sorenstam, who didn't play in the tournament.

Gold Rush Seniors

EL DORADO HILLS, Calif. -- Tom Kite shot a 7-under-par 65 to hold off Allen Doyle by one stroke and tie a Senior PGA Tour record in winning the Gold Rush Classic.

Kite, who started the final round with a five-stroke lead, stumbled early with two bogeys and saw Doyle tie him for the lead twice. But Kite went ahead for good with a birdie on No. 12 at the Serrano Country Club course and won for the first time this year.

He collected $195,000 for his third career senior victory and established a tournament scoring mark with a 22-under 194. That matched the tour record in relation to par. Raymond Floyd set the mark at the Gulfstream Aerospace Invitational in 1993 and Ed Dougherty tied it this year at the TD Waterhouse Championship.

Doyle, who closed with a 63 for a 195 total, won $114,400 and passed Bruce Fleisher to take over first place on the money list. Doyle now has $2,332,942, while Fleisher, who tied for ninth and won $35,100, now has $2,278,857.

Dougherty shot a 66 to finish third, four strokes behind Kite, while Don Pooley (65), Bruce Lietzke (67) and Walter Hall (66) were all another stroke back.

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