Returning to the Lone Star state isn't the only reason that Texan Justin Leonard feels at home playing in the Valero Texas Open.
Leonard won the event played at La Cantera Golf Club for the third time last year, matching the tournament record set by golfing great Arnold Palmer. Leonard returns to defend his title and seeks his record fourth win in this week's PGA Tour Fall Series event in San Antonio.
Heading into Thursday's first round, Leonard admits he'd love to move past Palmer.
"It would be very special, I can't lie about that, but I'm not thinking too much about trying to win the golf tournament on Wednesday," Leonard told reporters. "I'm going to try to stay away from those thoughts and just focus in on trying to play well."
In the Texas Open, Leonard's record has been remarkably consistent. He's won three times, finished second twice and made the cut in nine of 10 starts. He's 121 under par for his career in the tournament and has shot in the 60s in 31 of his 38 rounds.
Last year, Leonard joined Palmer (1960-62) as the only players to win the event three times. Leonard first won the tournament in 2000 and successfully defended his title in 2001.
Win No. 3 for Leonard in the Texas Open came last year in a playoff over Jesper Parnevik. Leonard sank a 10-foot birdie putt on the third playoff hole for the victory.
"I've had some good - some great - tournaments here in the past and starting out my first year down here," Leonard said. "(I) played well and finished in the top 20, got my card and next year got into the Tour Championship by finishing second to Duffy (Waldorf) here.
"Then, last year, after coming off a tough stretch and my game was starting to come around, to come in here and win, that was a springboard to some good things."
Leonard has climbed to No. 23 in the world golf rankings after being No. 126 in 2006 and No. 89 in 2007. This year, Leonard has eight top-10 finishes, earned more than $3.8 million and finished eighth in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings.
"I feel very comfortable with my game right now and what I'm trying to do on the golf course," Leonard said. "The biggest thing is just trying to get some rest, and I had last week off and didn't practice, so I feel pretty good coming in this week and just focusing on getting ready to play (Thursday) and take it one day at a time."
This week's field also includes Davis Love III, who finished in a tie for third last week at the Turning Stone Resort Championship. It marked his best showing since winning the 2006 Chrysler Classic of Greensboro.
"It was certainly fun to get in there and, like I said after the tournament, there were six, seven guys that said they probably should have won, and I was one of them," Love said. "But it was fun to be in there, and I enjoyed it up there."
But probably not as much as Leonard enjoys coming back to La Cantera.
"He's a favorite a lot of places, but certainly you get him on his home turf, he becomes even more dangerous," Love said of Leonard. "He's excited to be here; he knows what he's doing and how to play each hole.
"It's easier for Justin to psych himself up because he has had success, and this is what he's used to."
• SCHEDULE: Thursday-Sunday
• SITE: San Antonio
• COURSE: LaCantera Golf Club, Resort Course (6,881 yards, par 70).
• PURSE: $4.5 million (winner's share: $810,000)
• TV: Golf Channel (Thursday, 4-7 p.m., 10 p.m.-1 a.m. EDT; Friday-Sunday, 6-8 a.m., 4-7 p.m., 10 p.m.-1 a.m. EDT; Monday, 6-8 a.m. EDT).
October 9, 2008
Davis Love III, who played the final 57 holes of the Children's Miracle Network Classic without a bogey, finished at 25-under 263 in the season-ending event played at the Walt Disney World Golf Resort in Florida. It has been a long road back for Love, who severely sprained his ankle late last year. After tearing ligaments, he needed surgery, and he's spent much of this year rehabilitating the injury.
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