Daily Wrap-up: Bob Hope Classic, Round 5

January 23, 2011
Staff and wire reports

LA QUINTA, Calif. (AP) -- Jhonattan Vegas' path to the PGA TOUR started in the remote reaches of Venezuela, where the toddler imitated his father's golf swing with sticks and stones while growing up in an oil-drilling camp.

Fifth-round coverage
HOPE PLAYOFF: The defending champion was eliminated first and the player who hit one in the water ended up victorious. Follow the playoff shot-by-shot. Breakdown
DEFENSE-LESS: Bill Haas had a chance to become the first Bob Hope repeat champion in 30-plus years but was doomed by two late pars. Story
This week's results

The 26-year-old rookie needed a wealth of patience and perseverance just to make it to Palm Springs from that camp in the Orinoco River valley.

And when Gary Woodland made a few mistakes of his own, the man they're already calling Jhonny Vegas hit the biggest jackpot of his pioneering career.

Vegas made a 13-foot par putt on the second playoff hole to win the Hope Classic, holding off Woodland for his first PGA TOUR victory in just his fifth start.

Vegas is the first Venezuelan to win a PGA TOUR event, but his remarkably steady performance over 92 holes in the five-day event suggests he's capable of winning again -- and maybe even energizing an unpopular sport in his homeland.

"Just to think about winning on the PGA TOUR, that's something," Vegas said. "But to make it happen is something else, and it's a crazy feeling. It was tough today to stay neutral and play golf, and that's why. To my country, I hope this means a lot. I really hope it means people changing (their minds) about the sport."

Vegas improbably became the first rookie to win the 52-year-old tournament with a spectacular up-and-down par after knocking his 92nd tee shot into the water 160 yards from the hole.

With the light fading rapidly behind the San Jacinto Mountains, Vegas got help from two poor shots by Woodland, who also was seeking his first tour win. Woodland's approach shot landed in a bunker, and his sand shot trickled to the opposite side of the green.

After his drop, Vegas confidently put a 9-iron right behind the pin. Woodland missed a par putt, and Vegas holed his $900,000 putt.

"Seemed like we were out there forever," said Woodland, a former college basketball player from Kansas. "We were grinding all day. Jhonattan got off to a pretty good start, and I was just trying to catch him all day, so the playoff was no different. It was just sudden death, but who made the first mistake? And it looked like I did."

Vegas and Woodland eliminated defending champion Bill Haas with birdies on the first playoff hole after all three finished the final round at 27-under 333. Vegas is the third straight player to get his first PGA TOUR victory at the Hope, joining Pat Perez and Haas.

Vegas and Woodland closed with 3-under 69s and Haas shot a 66.

Playing one group apart, Haas and Vegas both missed short putts on the final regulation hole. A few minutes after Haas botched a 6-footer for birdie, Vegas couldn't connect, making his only bogey of the final day. Woodland, who shared the lead with Vegas after each of the final three rounds, got into the playoff with a birdie on the final regulation hole.

Shot of the Day

Jhonattan Vegas' chip shot and birdie putt on the first playoff hole.

Vegas cut a confident figure on the Palmer Private course, wearing a neon-peach shirt with starkly white pants and Nike hat. He was followed by his mother and his father, Carlos, who got his son into the game while selling food and tending a nine-hole course in that oil camp.

Vegas left home at 17, moving to Houston to study golf and English before playing at the University of Texas.

"Life for me hasn't been always the best," Vegas said. "I had to fight to get where I am. I'm a fighter, and if I set a goal in front of me, I'm just going to die just to get there, and fight hard to accomplish what I set out in my mind."

Vegas' victory should give a boost to his desire to revive the sport in his native country, where golf has been under criticism from President Hugo Chavez, who has closed six courses in the past seven years. Vegas has expressed a desire to speak with Chavez, hoping to change the president's mind about the sport that Chavez has decried as a pastime of the rich.

"I hope they know about the story, and that it is possible to get to the PGA TOUR and win," Vegas said of his fellow Venezuelans. "I hope people realize that all over the world."

The Masters will have a bit of Vegas flair this year -- and not just from Jhonattan. His father wouldn't miss it for the world.

"I know it's a dream that my dad and my American friends have to go to the Masters, just to walk around," Vegas said with a broad smile. "That's what they told me. It's like, 'Before I die, just please get me to the Masters."

Bob Hope Classic: Round 5
The par-5 2nd hole was the easiest with a Sunday scoring average of 4.384.
The par-4 10th hole was the toughest with a Sunday scoring average of 4.329.
About the winner: Jhonattan Vegas
• Jhonattan Vegas won in his second start as a PGA TOUR member and fifth career start on the TOUR. Garrett Willis (2001), Ben Crenshaw (1973) and Robert Gamez (1990) all won their first start as a PGA TOUR member. Jim Benepe won the 1988 Western Open in his first career start on the PGA TOUR.
• Vegas is the first PGA TOUR member from Venezuela.
• Vegas is the first rookie to win in the 52 year history of the Bob Hope Classic.
• Vegas is just the third rookie to win on TOUR since 2008. No rookie won on TOUR in 2009, while Derek Lamely and Rory McIlroy each won in their rookie season last year.
• In 2010, there were 15 first time winners and 16 wins by players in their 20s. Vegas becomes the first first-time winner on TOUR this season and the first player in his 20s to win this season.
• Vegas has now made four cuts in five starts on the PGA TOUR.
• Vegas joins Arnold Palmer (1960) and Charley Hoffman (2007) as the only players to win the Bob Hope Classic in their first start here.
• Dating back to 2002, Pat Perez (2009) and Jhonattan Vegas are the only players to win the Bob Hope Classic after playing the first round on the Palmer Course.
• Vegas becomes the seventh first-time winner of the Bob Hope Classic and the fourth in the last five years. The previous first-time winners include: Bill Rogers (1978), Craig Stadler (1980), Donnie Hammond (1986), Charley Hoffman (2007), Pat Perez (2009) and Bill Haas (2010).
• Vegas ends a four year streak of players coming from behind on the final day to win. Bill Haas (2010), Pat Perez (2009), D.J. Trahan (2008) and Charley Hoffman (2007) all came from behind to win at the Bob Hope Classic.
• This is the fifth career start on the PGA TOUR for Jhonattan Vegas the 2010 Nationwide Tour graduate and former Texas Longhorn. He made the cut at last weeks Sony Open in Hawaii but did not qualify for the final two rounds and finished T57 (67-71-138).
• Vegas won the 2010 Argentina Open in mid-December, cruising to a six-stroke win in the Tour de las Americas event in Buenos Aires.

Ryan Palmer shot an 8-under 64 in the final round to finish fourth at 26 under, while Brian Gay's 10-under 62 shot him up from 37th place to a tie for fifth with Kevin Na (67) at 24 under.