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Rookie Jhonattan Vegas wins Bob Hope Classic in playoff

After hitting into the water on second playoff hole, he makes 13-foot shot for par to beat Gary Woodland. The Venezuela native had worked with his father the night before to find his putting groove.

January 23, 2011|By Diane Pucin
  • Jhonattan Vegas hits his tee shot on the 16th hole during the final round of the Bob Hope Classic at the PGA West Palmer Private course on Sunday.
Jhonattan Vegas hits his tee shot on the 16th hole during the final round… (Jeff Gross / Getty Images )

Reporting from La Quinta

It was a father-son moment, Carlos Vegas and his son Jhonattan on a putting green Saturday night, the elder man telling his big-shouldered, hard-hitting son to grip his putter softer, to be gentle with that club on the greens, and be steady too.

So there was Vegas, standing out in the lowering light late Sunday afternoon in his peach shirt and white pants, caressing that putter on the second playoff hole, wiggling his big shoulders and then carefully striking the ball perfectly, settling the Bob Hope Classic with a 13-foot par and an explosion of joy.

Vegas, a 26-year-old and the only PGA Tour pro ever from Venezuela, won his first tour event Sunday on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff.

The win earned Vegas a $900,000 check, an invitation to the Masters and the biggest hug ever from his father, the caterer and the occasional putting coach.

After 90 holes of regulation play, Vegas, former Washburn University basketball player Gary Woodland and defending champion Bill Haas had tied at 27-under par 333. Vegas and Woodland had begun Sunday tied for the lead.

Haas came from three shots behind, but his 66 on the Arnold Palmer Private course had been just good enough for him to sneak into the playoff after Woodland and Vegas finished 18 holes Sunday with 69s.

But it was Haas who eliminated himself first when the trio played the 18th hole a second time. And it seemed as if Vegas was going to be gone too when, on the second playoff hole, the 10th, he knocked his tee shot into the water, the ball making waves when it landed after three bounces.

But if Vegas' water landing was a sign of nerves, so was Woodland's second shot on the 92nd hole. His approach struck sand and his sand shot wasn't good. Vegas took his drop out of the water and hit his approach to within 13 feet. It wasn't an easy putt for par but Vegas made it look that way,

"My putting is the best it's ever been," Vegas said. "I spent a good amount of time yesterday with my dad on the putting green really finding a groove and the putting was phenomenal today."

Vegas' father, Carlos, and mother, Maritza, were nervous observers. Maritza sometimes hid her head in her arms and afterward, Carlos paid tribute to his son's work ethic and nerve. Almost nine years ago Jhonattan left home and moved to Houston. "When your son has a dream," Carlos said, "you must support it."

Through an interpreter, Carlos said that he, his wife and four sons did not have a privileged existence in Venezuela. Carlos worked as a caterer, mostly for oil companies.

"We did not have an easy life," he said. But what the father and his sons did have was access to a handful of nine-hole courses that were around for oil company employees.

It was by learning the game without privilege that Carlos said helped Jhonattan hold his nerves Sunday.

When that tee shot went into the water, Jhonattan said he still thought he could win. "The ball went in the water, yes," Vegas said. "But as I was walking onto the fairway, I just kept thinking that I still had a chance to hit it on the green and make a putt for par."

Which is exactly what happened.

And Woodland cooperated too, by hitting what he called "a not very good golf shot" on his approach to the final hole. "I just hit it too hard."

Vegas is the first rookie to win the five-day Hope Classic and joins Arnold Palmer and Charley Hoffman as the only players to have won the tournament in their first try. Carlos said he and his son ate at Arnold Palmer's restaurant Saturday night. "I think maybe that was good luck," Carlos said.

Next for Vegas is the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines where the field will be tougher with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson expected. But Carlos is already dreaming. His son is going to the Masters now. "God willing," he said. "So am I."

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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