Justin Leonard Justin Leonard captures Stanford St. Jude Championship with playoff victory

Some players like to be well-rested heading into a major. Justin Leonard insists he isn't one of them.

After grinding out a sudden-death victory on the second playoff hole Sunday in the Stanford St. Jude Championship, Leonard said he considered it the best possible preparation for this week's U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

"I'll be a little bit tired the next couple days, but I feel pretty good about getting rested up for Thursday," Leonard told reporters. "When I come and play a week before a major or an event like the Player's Championship or Ryder Cup or President's Cup, the best preparation I can get - the best way for me to prepare - is to play well.

"I knew coming in here the best way for me to prepare is to gain confidence by playing well and then do those little things in my practice session that I may need for next week. I would say in that department, I did a pretty good job."

Starting the day tied for seventh, Leonard closed with a final 2-under-par 68 to finish regulation in a three-way tie with Masters champion Trevor Immelman and Robert Allenby at 4-under 276 in Memphis, Tenn. After all three players made par on the first playoff hole at the par-4 18th, Leonard sank a 19-foot birdie putt on the par-3 11th and claimed victory when Immelman missed an 11-foot birdie putt to extend the playoff.

"I was comfortable with my line," Immelman told reporters about his final putt. "I felt it was just left edge and, you know, I thought I hit a pretty good putt. [It] just didn't turn at all and finished right behind the hole, unfortunately, but obviously Justin made a great putt there. So, birdie to win was pretty nice."

It marked the 12th career PGA Tour victory for Leonard and his first since winning the 2007 Valero Texas Open, also in extra holes. The Texas native pocketed a winner's share of $1.08 million and climbed to No. 3 in the FedEx Cup Standings behind Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. He is fifth in the Ryder Cup standings.

Leonard's success comes after a difficult 2006 campaign when he struggled through swing changes. He thanked teachers Randy Smith and Dick Coop and his caddie, Brian Smith, as well as his family for sticking with him and encouraging him through some tough times.

"I feel like I've been playing some pretty good golf for the last eight, nine months, but like I talked about a little bit last fall, you can't always justify changes and good play with results," said Leonard, who won his second St. Jude Championship. "And I think when you can, when you win a golf tournament, you have to really hold on to that feeling and take a lot of satisfaction."

On a layout at TPC Southwind that has played much more difficult since its redesign, only 12 players finished below par and the winning 276 total was the highest for 72 holes since the event was moved to its current site in 1989. Tim Clark started the day with a two-shot advantage, but made a triple bogey on the first hole. Ten different players had a share of the lead at some point in the final round.

Leonard actually let a one-hole lead slip away in the final holes to fall into the playoff. Immelman, who shot a final-round 69, got into the playoff by making birdies on the final three holes, including converting a 23-foot birdie putt at No. 18. Allenby shot 5-under 65 Sunday, but saw his string of 10 consecutive worldwide victories in playoffs halted.

"I did my best and my best wasn't good enough," Allenby told reporters. "You can't dwell on it.

As for Leonard, he's looking to carry the momentum into the U.S. Open — and possibly even a spot on the Ryder Cup team.

"I don't know how much of a lock I am, but I feel pretty good about making it," said Leonard, whose 45-foot putt gave the U.S. its last Ryder Cup victory back in 1999 at Brookline. "I'm looking forward to being on that team and I'm looking forward to us winning again soon."

June 9, 2008

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