Verplank finally wins Nelson

IRVING, Texas (AP) -- As much as Scott Verplank wanted to win Byron Nelson's tournament, he never really expected to do it.

Not even when he asked Nelson's wife, Peggy, at the beginning of the week to be there at the 18th green if he was in contention.

"You know, I think that was wishful thinking," Verplank said. "I can't believe it happened."

But Peggy Nelson was there when Verplank, who had last won in 2001, made his final 2-foot par putt at No. 18 Sunday for a one-stroke victory over Luke Donald in the first EDS Byron Nelson Championship played without its namesake.

"I think Byron had a hand in this week," Verplank said. "She just told me that he picked the winner this week. I think he might have."

Verplank, who as a teenager growing up in Dallas got to know Nelson and play several rounds with the legendary golfer, had three straight birdies and an incredible par save from a bunker at No. 17 -- blasting from the opposite side of the green to within 2 feet of the cup.

The 42-year-old Verplank finally won on his 21st try at the Nelson, which he considers his fifth major because of the man for which it's named -- and who used to write him encouraging notes. Verplank once was a standard bearer at the tournament, where his mother was a volunteer.

When his final putt went into the cup, Verplank dropped into a squatting position and put his head into his hands. Then he looked skyward with a huge smile.

"I just kept saying, `Oh my gosh! I can't believe it!' I couldn't believe that it happened. It was a dream," Verplank said. "Then I looked up and said, `Thank you.' Incredible."

Verplank closed with a 4-under-66 for a 13-under 267 total and his fifth PGA Tour victory, the first since the 2001 Canadian Open. Phil Mickelson (65), Jerry Kelly (64), Rory Sabbatini (64) and Ian Poulter (66) tied for third at 10 under.

Sadly missing was a personal congratulation from Nelson, who died Sept. 26 at age 94. But Peggy Nelson clutched one of his famed fedoras in her hand when she hugged Verplank.

"Byron would be very, very happy for Scott. I am, too," she said. "The friendship they had, it's great to see it culminate this way."

Donald's 12th straight under-par round at the Nelson -- a 66 on Sunday -- wasn't enough to overcome Verplank's apparent destiny this week.

The sore shoulder that has bothered Verplank for so long, the same problem that forced him to withdraw from last year's tournament that was the last attended by Nelson, was never an issue this week.

"It went away. I'm serious," Verplank said, shaking his head. "I didn't feel any pain."

Donald started the final round ahead by a stroke. His lead had grown to three after his 12-foot putt at the 438-yard sixth hole, his third birdie in a four-hole stretch.

"I was feeling really good about my game," Donald said.

But No. 6 was the same hole where Verplank began his birdie run with a 5-footer. Verplank was within a stroke at 12 under after chipping to 2 feet for birdie at the 533-yard seventh hole and making a 12-footer at No. 8.

Things went wrong for Donald at the 439-yard ninth hole, with a double bogey after his first three shots missed the green and a poor chip set up a two-putt from 12 feet.

"That was the difference," said Donald, also a runner-up at the Sony Open in Hawaii in mid-January. "I will look at the positive, but right now I'm very disappointed. ... It's not much fun finishing second."

Even though Verplank missed his 8-foot birdie attempt at No. 9, he was in the lead -- and stayed there.

Clinging to a one-stroke lead after the par save at the 196-yard 17th hole, Verplank got an unexpected comforting feeling before hitting his final tee shot.

"I had some help there on the last hole. There's no doubt," he said. "I felt a cool breeze, and it wasn't cool out there."

Verplank and Donald both drove their balls into the fairway and then had similar 10-foot birdie attempts that slid past the hole.

The closest Verplank had come to winning the Nelson before was in 2001 when he lost a four-hole playoff with Robert Damron. That was the first of three top-10 finishes his last six Nelsons, but he was in his 140th PGA Tour event since last winning.

"There's no question in my mind that the stars lined up and I got a little help from upstairs," Verplank said. "I just haven't been playing that good." ^Divots: Verplank won $1.134 million and a custom-made motorcycle built by Orange County Choppers. ... Mickelson, in his first tournament since the Masters and with Butch Harmon as his instructor, had two chip-in birdies the first seven holes and came up only inches short of another at No. 8. ... Sabbatini, following up his runner-up finish at the Masters, ended with three straight birdies. ... No one has won consecutive Nelsons since Tom Watson won three in a row from 1978-80. Defending champion Brett Wetterich, hurt by a 74 on Saturday, finished tied for 10th at 6 under.


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