Verplank overcomes adversity to win Reno-Tahoe Open

RENO - Scott Verplank calmly sunk an eight-foot birdie putt on the fourth hole of a sudden death playoff late Sunday against Jean Van De Velde to win the Reno-Tahoe Open at Montreux Golf and Country Club in dramatic fashion.

It was Verplank's first win on the PGA Tour since 1988, when he won the Buick Open.

"In 1988, if you asked me if it would be 12 years before I won again, I would've blown you off," Verplank said. "But I've had a lot of things happen to me between then and now."

Verplank's career seemed as promising as any of golf's big names after leaving Oklahoma State University as a four-time All-American and NCAA champion in 1986.

"I had great promise coming out of college, winning a PGA tour event as an amateur," Verplank said. "And when I was 21 years old, I was a pretty good player, to be honest with you."

In 1985, Verplank won the Western Open to become the first amateur in 31 years to win a PGA tour event. But since that victory and his win at the Buick, Verplank, a diabetic, has had to overcome three elbow surgeries. After surgery on his right elbow in 1992, Verplank couldn't play golf for two years. Then in 1997, another surgery, this time on his left elbow, forced him to miss another year.

"It's pretty hard to get hurt and lose all of your confidence and then come back and be any good at all," Verplank said.

Verplank started the day at eight-under par, five strokes behind Van De Velde, but fired a final-round 67 to finish at 13-under.

Meanwhile, Van De Velde struggled to shoot 72, yet had a chance to win the tournament on No. 18. But his 15-foot birdie putt rolled an inch to the left of the hole, which then set up the sudden death playoff.

"I knew I had to birdie one of the last two," Van De Velde said about his opportunity to win. "I didn't birdie 17 and I had a good chance on 18. But it wasn't like I missed a three-footer."

The playoff started on No. 18, which both players parred, after Van De Velde missed another 15-foot birdie putt. Both players also parred the 15th and 16th holes. Van De Velde didn't do himself any favors on No. 17 when he hit his tee shot into the bushes, but Verplank knew it wasn't over.

"You'd love for the guy to give it to you, but that ain't gonna happen," he said. "I did that in my last playoff in 1998 and I didn't expect that to happen today."

Amazingly, Van De Velde hit safely into the fairway after hooking his second shot between two trees. But he still had almost 230 yards to the hole.

Verplank used a 3-iron on his second shot, which he laid up about 100 yards short of the green. That, in turn, forced Van De Velde to come up with another good shot.

Using a 4-iron, Van De Velde's third shot landed on the edge of the green. But Verplank's sand wedge shot landed within 10 feet of the hole, which set up some real drama.

Van De Velde two-putted for his par. Now, the pressure swung back to Verplank's downhill birdie putt. After a few practice strokes, Verplank sent his ball rolling and directly into the center of the cup.

The crowd erupted after Verplank secured his first tour victory in a dozen years. At the same time, the fans were sad for Van De Velde, who is still searching for his first PGA tour victory.

"If he keeps playing well, he'll win a golf tournament out here," Verplank emphatically said.

"I had my chances and it wasn't meant to be," Van De Velde said. "The more often you get in this position, then probably the more often you learn how to win."

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