Reno-Tahoe Open: J.J. Henry picks up first win since 2006
August 6, 2012
RENO – After six years and 178 starts, J.J. Henry is back in the winner’s circle on the PGA Tour.
Henry, who last won at the 2006 Buick Open in his 177th start, scored seven points Sunday to finish with 43, one ahead of hard-charging Alexandre Rocha, who birdied his final two holes to finish with 42.
The win earned Henry $540,000, 250 FedEx Cup points and an automatic invite into this week’s PGA Championship. Maybe even more important is that he earned a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour.
Andres Romero was third with 37, three ahead of John Mallinger. John Daly and Justin Leonard tied for fifth at 33. Josh Teater was seventh at 31 points, while Todd Hamilton, Brendan Steele and Tom Pernice Jr. tied for eighth at 30. Kevin Stadler was 11th with a 29, while Richard Lee and J.B. Holmes tied for 12th with 28s.
This one came down to the wire, as Rocha kept chipping away at Henry’s six-point lead. Rocha gave himself a chance with a birdie on 17. He needed an eagle on 18 to force Henry to birdie. However, Rocha birdie and Henry parred for the win.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Henry said. “This is my 12th straight year on the tour. I got my first victory in 2006, but to finally get over that hump again it means a lot, not only to win , but to win in such a neat place. Reno-Tahoe is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to.
“I hope I don’t have to wait another 176 starts, but it is what it is Again, I’ll take it. I kind of worked my way up the ladder. I’ve been very consistent out here. I’ve never lost my card in 12 straight years out here, so there is something to be said for consistency.”
Henry, who started the final round at plus-36, started with four straight pars. He was overtaken by Rocha, who holed out from the rough on No. 4 to get to plus-37.
Henry opened up a three-point lead over Rocha, 40-37, when he birdied the 477-yard par-4 5th by draining a 24-foot putt, and then followed up with birdie with a 15-foot birdie putt on the 486-yard par-4 6th.
The lead extended to five points (42-37) on the par-4 8th when Henry hit an approach shot to 6 feet and knocked down the birdie putt to get to plus-42. He picked up another point on his lead when Rocha put his second shot into the greenside bunker and missed a 26-foot par-saving putt to fall back to plus-36.
“I knew how far behind him I was because I was keeping a scorecard,” said Rocha said. “I didn’t know where I was in relation to the rest of the field. You have to keep in mind that we’re talking about somebody trying to win a tournament, but I’m also trying to finish in the best position I can.
“As much as I was trying to catch the leader, I was trying not to fall behind from where I am. So that was my reasoning. I thought if I stayed close to him it’s going to be hard for me to be not far off at the end, and that’s exactly what happened.”
Henry and Rocha traded pars on 10, 11 and 12, and then Rocha closed the gap to four points with a birdie on the par-5 13th.
Rocha was just short of the green with his second shot, but he put his next shot 5 feet away and drained the putt to get to plus-38. Henry, who played well on the back nine all week, hit his third shot into the greenside bunker. He was a foot short on his birdie putt and settled for par.
Henry got his lead back up to six, 44-38, with a birdie on the par-4 15th, but he bogeyed the difficult par-3 16th to fall back to plus-43. Rocha fought back with a birdie on the difficult 472-yard par-4 17, draining a 7-foot birdie putt to get to plus-40.
Rocha figured he needed an eagle and five points on the par-5 18th, a hole that is reachable in two.
Rocha’s caddie told him the only chance to win the tournament was to make eagle, and second place was secure. Rocha chose a 3-wood off the tee and hit a tree along the left fairway, but the ball bounced back onto the short grass.
“There was no room to hit driver with the tees being forward and downwind,” Rocha said. “I took a very aggressive line and tried to hit it as far down the left side as I could. I just overworked it a bit, and I got fortunate because it hit off a tree and went back into the fairway.”
Rocha put his next shot next to the cart path, leaving him 47 yards to the green.
Meanwhile, Henry put his tee shot in the fairway safely and then put his second shot about 40 yards from the green, which put even more pressure on Rocha.
Rocha chipped out to 15 feet, and then drained the putt, meaning Henry had to get down in three from the fairway to win.
Henry did exactly that, pitching the ball to 12 feet. His birdie putt missed by less than a foot, leaving him just a tap-in for the win.
It may have looked like Henry started to get conservative after opening up his six-stroke lead, but that wasn’t the case.
“To be honest, I didn’t really shut it down, but the golf course played pretty difficult,” Henry said. “The wind really blew and swirled around our last 12 or 13 holes.
“I played somewhat conservative on 18. I hit a 7-iron to the front of the green. After he hit it pretty far left (on the second shot), we knew in essence that par would probably be good enough. The I chipped it up there to about 10 feet, and gosh, he made a great up and down to make me two-putt to win. I was pretty nervous on that 10-footer, just trying to get it up there somewhere near the hole.”
It was Rocha’s best finish by far. His previous best was a 73rd at the Wells Fargo Championship.
“I couldn’t be any happier with the performance this week,” Rocha said. “I have shattered any previous record I might have had in terms of performing results, money earned, whatever. This is a whole new level for me.
“The first day in here (on Saturday) it was a big milestone for me. Well this is a mountain for me, and I’m very excited to have been able to pull through.”
Romero, who started the day five shots back, never got any closer than three points. He managed four birdies and two bogeys. He finished with a birdie on No. 18 to get solo third.
Mallinger, who entered the day four points behind Henry, recorded just two points thanks to just two birdies and two bogeys. He lost a chance to get to within four points on the par-5 13th when he missed a 5-foot eagle putt and had to settle for two points and a plus-35. He bogeyed the par-4 17th to finish at plus-34, the highest finish for a Web.com graduate in this year’s field.
For Daly, it was his best finish since 2005 at Harding Park in San Francisco. He declined a request to be interviewed by a PGA official following the round.
Daly recorded four birdies (Nos. 1, 6, 9 and 13) and three bogeys (Nos. 2, 7 and 10).
It was also Leonard’s best finish of the season. He tied for eighth at the Farmers Insurance Open early in the season.
Leonard birdied both par-3s on the front, sinking putts from 3 and 16-feet, respectively. He holed out from the fringe for a birdie on No. 8. He dropped a 5-foot birdie putt on No. 12, and then parred in the rest of the way.
Richard Lee was the first player in the tournament to record two eagles en route to an 11-point day and 28 total points. The 11-point day was the best in the fourth round. The two eagles alone gave him 10 points, but he also recorded four bogeys.
Lee hit a 265-yard approach shot to the par-5 2nd and then drained an 18-foot putt for an eagle to get to plus-22. On the par-5 13th, he holed out from 33 feet.