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Henry captures first PGA Tour title in home state

7/3/2006 - Golf J.J. Henry

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.

The Fairfield native had a three-stroke lead at the Buick
Championship, a tournament he had watched growing up. Hauser pulled
out the driver and gave his longtime pal a wink.

"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.

Divots
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.