Henry captures first PGA Tour title in home state
CROMWELL, Conn. -- J.J. Henry and caddie Matt Hauser stood on the 18th tee Sunday, knowing they'd soon be celebrating something special -- Henry's first PGA Tour win.
"Matt said 'Hey, you're one of the best drivers out here. Just go out and enjoy it. Just rip it down there,'" Henry said.
Did he ever.
Henry boomed a 361-yard drive, the longest of the tournament, the ball landing about 80 yards from the green. With thousands lining the bowl-shaped hole, the long walk up the fairway was worth every step.
Henry shot a 3-under 67 to win by three strokes, becoming the first Connecticut player to win the 55-year-old tournament. The 31-year-old tipped his hat and applauded the fans as he walked up the 18th to an ovation. He had a few words of instruction for Hauser.
"Knowing that I was going to win, I said 'Matt, make sure you're the first one to come over because I want to give you a big hug,'" Henry said. "'This means as much to you as it does to me.'"
When his par putt rolled in, Henry dropped his putter, pumped both fists in the air and embraced his caddie.
"Every time I'd leave here I'd go back to the putting green or the driving range and pretend I was winning the tournament," Henry said of his childhood visits to the tournament. "I thought how cool that would be someday if I could be one of those guys and play against the best players in the world. It means the world to me."
He will get a chance now to play against the world's best on one the sport's biggest stages.
The victory clinched Henry a spot in his first British Open and moved him from 26th to sixth in Ryder Cup points. Henry, who now lives in Texas, takes home $792,000, his biggest paycheck since joining the PGA Tour in 2000.
"I know I still have a lot of work to do and there's a lot of events still to go, but to play in the Open Championship, a place I've never played before ... I'm pretty excited," Henry said.
Former Oklahoma State golfer Hunter Mahan (65) and Ryan Moore (67), who had surgery on his left hand in March, tied for second at 11-under. It was Mahan's best finish in two years. He also was looking for his first tour win.
"Sometimes we get too caught up in trying to figure out how someone else does it instead of trying to find your way," Mahan said. "I feel like I'm getting closer to finding my way and doing what I need to do to go out there and play well."
Nathan Green (66) was all alone in fourth at 9-under. Former Buick Championship winners Stewart Cink (67) and Woody Austin (68) were in a group that included Shigeki Maruyama (66) and Bubba Dickerson (67) at 7-under.
Henry not only had to beat the field, but had to get out ahead of the weather. The final round was moved up about three hours and golfers went off in threesomes because of the threat of severe storms late in the afternoon.
Rumbles of thunder could be heard by the time Henry's group reached No. 15. The storms did hold off though, and Henry and his family celebrated on the 18th green to the delight of the thousands of fan lining the hole.
"His dad would bring him here when he was 5 years old," Henry's mother, Nancy, said. "This is where he's grown up and he's been here all these years."
En route to the win, Henry was under par all four rounds and was nearly unflappable the last two days. He made just three bogeys in the final 36 holes.
Henry played here as an amateur in 1998, finishing tied for 56th. This year marks his eighth appearance at the TPC at River Highlands. His best finish was a tie for 21st in 2003.
He started the day with a two-stroke lead and wasted little time pulling away. He birdied the third, eighth and ninth holes and made the turn at 14-under with a five-stroke lead and plenty of momentum.
The gallery grew with each hole and when he sunk a 14-foot putt for birdie on the par-3 No. 11 to give himself a five-shot lead, the fans roared.
"It's all over now, baby! It's all over now," one fan yelled.
Moore just missed an eagle chip-in on No. 15 and tapped in for birdie to stay just four back with three holes remaining. But Moore promptly gave one back on the water hole No. 16, sending his drive into the pond and scrambled to save bogey. Moore nearly eagled again on No. 18 as his approach from 110 yards out skipped over the cup. He tapped in for birdie to clinch second.
"I didn't really put any pressure on [Henry] early," Moore said. "When I had some chances, I had some good looks at birdies the first five or six holes and just couldn't get them to go."
Mahan birdied his final two holes to clinch his best finish since he tied for second at Reno in 2004 in his rookie season.
Henry became the sixth first-time winner on tour this season and earned 375 Ryder Cup points. ... Notah Begay III, David McKenzie and Skip Kendall finished in the top 10 to earn a spot in Chicago next week. ... Henry, Moore, Mahan and David McKenzie carded all four rounds in the 60s. ... Frank Lickliter II and Brent Geiberger had the only bogey-free rounds on Sunday.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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