Vegas captures Bob Hope Classic
Jhonattan Vegas won his first US Tour title in only his fifth start, beating Americans Bill Haas and Gary Woodland in a nerve-jangling play-off for the Bob Hope Classic in La Quinta, California.
Rookie Vegas, who learned golf playing with a broomstick and a rock in his native Venezuela, sealed victory at the second extra hole on the Palmer Private course at PGA West when he remarkably salvaged par after driving into water.
After taking a penalty drop, he hit his third shot from 157 yards to 12 feet and calmly sank the putt for a stunning breakthrough win in fading light.
The happy-go-lucky 26-year-old from Maturin pumped his right fist several times in celebration before being embraced on the green by his parents.
"Oh man, I am as happy as you can be in life and I've got to thank God first for the opportunity," Vegas, a graduate from the 2010 Nationwide Tour, said in a television interview after securing the winner's cheque for $900,000.
"This is a dream come true. It's something you dream about but just making it happen is something else."
Woodland had been in prime position off the tee on the second extra hole, the par-four 10th, but he bogeyed after pushing his approach into a greenside bunker, splashing out well past the cup and missing the par putt coming back.
"It's tough to lose," Woodland, who considered a career in basketball before switching to golf at college, said. "I came here expecting to win. I didn't. But credit to him he made a great four there. It was pretty cool."
Defending champion Haas exited the play-off at the first extra hole, the par-five 18th, where his par was trumped by birdies from Woodland and Vegas.
The trio had finished the 90 regulation holes on 27-under-par 333, Vegas bogeying the last for a three-under 69, Haas carding a six-birdie 66 and Woodland closing with a 69.
For much of a glorious sun-drenched afternoon in the California desert, it seemed Vegas was on track for victory before he faltered at the final hole of regulation.
Tied for the lead overnight with Woodland, Vegas made a fast start when he drained a 30-footer to birdie the par-four first and move one stroke clear.
He then struck a superb five-iron from 231 yards to 11 feet at the par-five sixth and calmly rolled in the eagle putt to forge three ahead, pumping his right fist in delight.
Vegas overshot the green with a booming drive of 330 yards at the par-four eighth before chipping back from greenside rough to five feet and coolly knocking in the birdie putt.
That left him two ahead of playing partner Woodland who had birdied the sixth, seventh and eighth.
The long-hitting Woodland narrowly missed a seven-foot birdie opportunity at the par-four ninth and remained two strokes off the pace after reaching the turn in two-under 34.
At the 11th, Woodland squandered another chance to trim the lead when his five-foot birdie slid past the right edge, Vegas having parred the hole after failing to reach the green in two.
Clearly suffering from nerves on the back nine and not playing at his best from tee to green, Vegas did well to record eight successive pars with clutch putt after clutch putt.
The most challenging came at the par-four 16th where he missed the green to the right with his approach and hit a lob wedge eight feet past the hole before sinking the putt.
Needing to par the last to seal victory by one shot, Vegas recorded his only bogey of the day after finding the right rough off the tee and ending up three-putting from long range.
His final miss from seven feet took the tournament into a play-off and two more holes of desert drama before he emerged triumphant.