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April 4 2011

12:21 AM

Wounded Verplank gave Phil a battle

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Scott Verplank and Phil Mickelson were neck-and-neck for most of the final round.

VIDEO: Verplank birdies No. 6 | Round 4 highlights | Verplank's par save on No. 1

By Melanie Hauser, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

HUMBLE Texas -- It would have been a great story.

But honestly, it still is.

Scott Verplank couldn’t grip a club four weeks ago. He went to the range at The Honda Classic every day and tried to hit balls. He wanted to play. He simply couldn't.

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Verplank

Two weeks in a row was just too much for his left wrist -- what’s left of it -- to handle. Heck, he wondered if golf, period, was too much.

So before you think about what he didn’t do Sunday afternoon, remember what he did do.

He finished second to Phil Mickelson at the Shell Houston Open. He shot a pair of 65s on Friday and Saturday -- with his precise, steady and definitely not long game -- to put him in contention on a bomber’s course. He threw out six birdies in the first 13 holes. He took a two-shot lead, then headed home tied with Mickelson.

He closed with a 68 on a day when knew he didn’t have control of his clubs. He could feel the wiggles. He knew he couldn’t get the clubface on the ball the way he wanted to.

He pulled off the best finish since losing a three-way playoff to Bubba Watson (Corey Pavin was the other player) at the Travelers Championship last year.

He played in just his third tournament of the year.

And, yes, he was disappointed he didn’t play better the last four holes, but ...

"You know, I guess, you know, other than if you don't win, second I guess is the next best deal," Verplank said. "It's nice that I hadn't forgotten how to play. I didn't have a whole lot of confidence. If you're hurt, you don't have a whole ton of confidence in your body, it's hard to have confidence in anything.

"So, you know, I was a little -- I was less than 80 percent today. I wasn't quite as -- not -- no excuse. I didn't have the same kind of strength in my grip, and I just didn't have as good a control over the club face. But, for 13 holes I hung in there pretty tough, you know, and Phil obviously played great. I mean, I was I birdieing every other hole, and I couldn't pull away from the guy. He was birdieing every hole. It was good. We had a good time playing together. I'm happy the see him win since I didn't.”

Verplank wasn’t sure if the wrist would hold up. He’s been through MRIs and cortisone shots and . . . well, you name it. Right now, no doctor is ready to cut into his because no one had ever operated on a wrist with bone degeneration like his.

It doesn’t hurt. It’s just not strong enough to keep the club stable.

"I have no pain," Verplank said. "I can just tell by kind of the more of the mechanics of it. It wasn't holding steady like I needed to do. The last five, six holes was more like I'd been trying to get ready to play a tournament. It will be alright. Give it a week off, hopefully I'll get back -- at least get back to where I was at the start of this week."

The issue causes problems with both hitting shots and putting.

"You know, as wimpy as putting is, you know, I can't grip the club like I want to to hold the face the way I want to," he said. "I mean, it's not far off, but I can't quite, you know, get it the way I want it to give me my best stroke or whatever.

"I could just tell today -- even though when I was playing good, I still wasn't hitting the ball as consistent as I did last couple of days. I could tell I didn't have the same kind of solidness through impact. You know, when you can feel the club wiggling a little bit, that's not a great feeling."

But playing a second straight week? Contending? That feeling was pretty sweet.

Verplank has played his entire career on guts. He was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes and has had two surgeries on his right elbow, one on his left and struggled with a shoulder problem, too.

He’d like nothing more than to be playing at Augusta next week, but that . . . well, that’s a much more disappointing feeling than not winning in Houston.

He finished double-bogey, bogey last year to miss an automatic invitation by a shot.

"That was a lot harder to take," he said. "The last round of the Masters last year I was 7 under with two to play on Sunday, and I ended up messing it up."

He’s taking this wrist thing in stride. His doctor -- Carlen Yates -- is talking to a specialist at the Stedman Clinic in Vail, Colorado. They’ll figure out the next step while he rests up, hopeful that he’ll be able to play the Valero Texas Open and Heritage after the Masters. Then, he’ll decide about THE PLAYERS-Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial-HP Byron Nelson Championship three-week stretch.

SCOTT VERPLANK'S SCORECARD:


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