Justin Leonard Justin Leonard bests Parnevik, ties Arnold Palmer with third Valero Texas Open win

Justin Leonard sank a 10-foot birdie putt on the third playoff hole Sunday, joining Arnold Palmer as the only three-time winners of the Valero Texas Open.

Leonard, who closed with a final-round score of 5-under-par 65 at La Cantera Resort Course in San Antonio, tied third-round leader Jesper Parnevik at 19-under 261 to force extra holes. The Texan then responded with his first playoff victory in five attempts on the PGA Tour.

Palmer won three consecutive Texas Open titles from 1960-62. Leonard, who had previously won the event in 2000 and 2001, said tying Palmer's mark was special for him.

"When I came back in 2002 to try and win for the third straight time, I remember a lot of the talk was trying to join Arnold Palmer," Leonard told reporters. "Since then, I haven't really had a chance to win down here and I didn't think about it today, which is probably a good thing, but it's great company to be in."

It was the 11th Tour victory for Leonard, but his first since 2005. The 1997 British Open champion had been in the midst of making several changes, switching caddies and instructors - leaving Butch Harmon earlier this year for former coach Randy Smith.

Leonard, who earned the $810,000 first-place check, said the victory helped validate some of his decisions.

"You don't always see the fruits of hard work out here," Leonard said. "Sometimes you do, but not always, and so have to find your own way to measure progress outside of results.

"There's no better way to validate it then to come out and win a golf tournament like this."

Daniel Chopra and Mathias Gronberg finished tied for third at 16-under 264. Heath Slocum shot a final-round 62 to place fifth at 14-under 266.

Sunday wasn't the first time Leonard rallied from behind to overtake Parnevik and get a victory. The same thing happened - excluding the playoff - in the 1997 British Open when Parnevik led Leonard by five strokes, but shot 71 and couldn't match Leonard's 65.

This time, Parnevik shot a 1-under 69 while surrendering his lead. The 42-year-old Swede, who was seeking his first PGA Tour win since 2001, had fired an opening-round 61 and was bidding for a wire-to-wire victory.

Instead, Parnevik battled several wayward tee shots, including one on the first playoff hole that forced him to take an unplayable lie. However, he responded with an approach shot from 153 yards that wound up three feet from the hole to set up par and extend the playoff.

On the deciding third playoff hole, Parnevik had a 28-foot birdie putt to stay alive, but came up one foot short.

"I had to dig pretty deep today," Parnevik told reporters, noting that he couldn't seem to get any momentum going on the front nine. "It was a lot of strange things going on today. I mean the birdie I made on 15 probably goes down in history one of the best birdies ever."

Leonard said he wasn't surprise to see Parnevik pull off several miraculous shots. The topper may have come at No. 15 where Parnevik hit his drive left into the tries, but was able to punch out to within 16 feet and make birdie.

"It's kind of the way Jesper plays," Leonard said. "He's not going to hit every fairway or every green, but he's very creative and he hit some gutsy shots. The drive he hit on 15 to make birdie from there was incredible."

It was also nothing new for Parnevik.

"I'm used to being in trouble, trust me," Parnevik said. "I'm not the best driver on Tour. I never have been.
"I give all the credit to Justin because he didn't do much wrong today and when he had to, he putted absolutely flawless. I know when he gets his putter going he is tough. That's just the way it is."

October 8, 2007

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