By Michael Curet, Special to PGATOUR.COM
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Russell Henley likes the big stage. For the second time in his young career, a clutch putt on the 72nd hole was his path to victory.
Three weeks ago, the 23-year-old sunk a 20-foot putt for bogey on the final hole to get into a three-way playoff when he won his first Web.com Tour event of the year at the Chiquita Classic. At 18 in Sunday's final round of the Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open Presented by Planters, he needed a 30-footer to tie B.J. Staten at 10-under and eventually force a playoff. Again, he buried it.
Staten was playing in the final group behind Henley and, consequently, missed a tricky, left-to-right 14-footer for the win.
"It felt really good to see that thing go in," said Henley, a former University of Georgia golfer who now lives in St. Simons Island, Ga. "I'm really sort of in shock right now."
In the playoff, the two went back to No. 18. After a perfect drive, Henley aggressively fired at the flag, left himself 15-feet below the hole and came home with par for his second victory in three weeks and his third career Web.com Tour title.
"It was a full 9-iron, 163 yards to the pin, down wind," said Henley. "The wind was perfect for my ball flight, left to right, pushing it and helping it back toward the hole location. I just put a good swing on it. I just tried to be aggressive and was lucky to get it to about 15 feet."
Staten, meanwhile, had a tougher angle on the right side of the fairway and sprayed his approach wide of the hole just off the green in the second cut against the rough. Choosing to chip it from 50 feet, the ball rolled just off the slope and he settled for double-bogey and a runner-up finish.
Henley moves to No. 3 on the Web.com money list
"I think the best part about this win is that I enjoyed the round a little bit more," said Henley, who has secured his spot in The 25 and his PGA TOUR card for 2013 while climbing to No. 3 on the Web.com Tour money list. "Last time I was in this position I was so nervous I couldn't even think. This one, I was able to relax a little bit more."There was plenty of drama leading up to the playoff with the lead see-sawing during the afternoon between Henley and Staten. Staten slept on the lead Saturday night and started the day three shots in front of Henley, who fired a 65 by day's end. Staten shot 68 Sunday.
Henley's final round included six birdies and one bogey, which came on 17 and dropped him to 9-under. As fate would have it, Staten had just birdied 15 and 16 to go to 11-under.
Staten also gave one back on No. 17, setting the story line for Henley's 18th hole magic with the putter.
It wasn't until he walked on the No. 18 green that he really knew the score.
"Seventeen is the toughest hole on the golf course and I didn't look at the scoreboard after that bogey," said Henley. "Then I looked at the board when I got to the green on 18 and I saw that B.J. was at 10 under. I looked at my caddie, Todd, and said 'I have a chance!'"
Henley, who won his first tournament on the Web.com Tour in his old stomping grounds at the Stadion Classic of UGA in 2011, had nothing but praise for the 35-year-old Staten, who moved from No. 64 to 32 on the Web.com Tour money list and is still looking for his first Tour win.
"I can't say enough nice things about B.J.," Henley said. "He was one of the first guys I played with out here at the start of the year and he is a super guy. His time is coming obviously. He's been playing this game a while and he's a great player."
Photo & article courtesy of PGAtour.com