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AT&T Champions Classic: Watson set to defend crown

Posted: March 11, 2009 8:09 p.m.
Updated: March 11, 2009 5:57 p.m.

Defending champion Denis Watson won the AT&T Champions Classic golf tournament last year in a sudden-death playoff.

 
Denis Watson said he drove from Valencia Country Club last March after Saturday's round "frustrated." He was seven shots back and standing in 20th place. Brad Bryant was in the lead at -7, holding a two-shot advantage over five players with 18 holes to play.

As he drove from the club, Watson's wife, Susan, posed a question from an earlier conversation she had with her mother. Watson's mother-in-law wanted to know if he could finish in the top-10.

"As well as I'm playing, I could win if I can just get it going," Watson told his wife.

The players were greeted with a breezy Santa Clarita Valley wind on Sunday, and while scores climbed, Watson, who hails from Salisbury, Rhodesia, was making up some real estate. He was one of only three players to post a round in the 60s on Sunday, shooting a 7-under 65. A birdie on the 54th hole got him to the mark and into a playoff with Bryant, who shot even par on the final day, and Loren Roberts, who chipped in for eagle on the par-5 18th to shoot 2-under for the day and get into the three-way playoff.

Bryant was eliminated on the second playoff hole, and Watson and Roberts, who was playing in his second consecutive playoff at the AT&T Champions Classic, ventured off to No. 18 in what turned out to be the decisive hole. Watson stuck a 9-iron just under two feet from the back left Sunday pin and tapped in for the winning birdie.

"I was very frustrated on Saturday. I played well both days and let it go on the back each day," Watson said. "On Sunday, I hit some great shots when I needed to."

Watson's heroics in 2008 came one year after a four-hole playoff between Roberts and eventual 2007 winner Tom Purtzer.

Since the event moved to Valencia Country Club in 2001, fantastic finishes have become commonplace over the difficult layout, which annually ranks as one of the toughest non-major challenges on the Champions Tour.

Overall, in eight AT&T Champions Classics at VCC, three have been decided in a playoff, with Tom Kite's 2002 win over Tom Watson joining the aforementioned events, and three have been decided by one stroke after 54 holes. Gil Morgan won by two strokes over Larry Nelson in 2004, and Tom Kite blitzed the field by the largest margin of victory in the tournament, five shots over Morgan in 2006.

Below is a recap of the previous eight AT&T Champions Classic finishes at Valencia Country Club:

2008
Champion: Denis Watson - 209 (-7) *won in playoff
Runner-Up: Loren Roberts and Brad Bryant - 209 (-7)

Recap:
For the second straight year, sudden death would decide the winner. Denis Watson came from seven strokes back with a final round 65 (-7), including a birdie on the final hole of regulation to get into a three-way tie with Brad Bryant, who was the leader after two rounds at 7-under, and Loren Roberts, who chipped in for eagle on his final hole of regulation to get to 7-under. Bryant was eliminated from contention after making a par on the second playoff hole, and Watson went on to defeat Roberts on the next hole, the Par 4 10th when his 9-iron from 152 yards landed just two feet from the cup for a tap-in birdie and the $240,000 first prize.

2007
Champion: Tom Purtzer - 206 (-10) *won in playoff
Runner-Up: Loren Roberts - 206 (-10)

Recap:
Tom Purtzer and Loren Roberts became very familiar with the 18th hole at Valencia CC. The duo finished the 54-hole event deadlocked at 10-under, and then played four playoff holes, all on No. 18. On the first three playoff holes, both players matched pars on the 546-yard Par 5. On the fourth and decisive hole, Purtzer rolled in a 17-foot birdie putt, and Roberts was unable to match him, just missing his 12-footer. The win was Purtzer's second at the difficult Valencia CC layout, winning the tournament in 2003.

2006
Champion: Tom Kite - 204 (-12)
Runner-Up: Gil Morgan - 209 (-7)

Recap:
Tom Kite fired an 8-under par 64, including a 29 on the back nine, on Saturday to put himself in the lead before cruising home with a five-stroke victory over Gil Morgan. It was Kite's second title at Valencia CC, and the largest margin of victory in the tournament. Open qualifier Mitch Adcock had the first round lead with a 5-under 67. Even with his 64, Kite only maintained a one-shot lead over Andy Bean, who carded a 65 on Saturday and stood at 9-under through 36 holes.

2005
Champion: Des Smyth - 211 (-5)
Runner-Up: D.A. Weibring and Mark McNulty - 212 (-4)

Recap:
What a difference a day makes! Des Smyth was sitting at 1-under through 36 holes, and when the golfers were greeted with a 20-degree drop in temperature from Saturday to Sunday and light drizzle, the scores went up, except for Smyth and a handful of other players. His 68 on Sunday matched the lowest round of the day with two other golfers and propelled him to the win. Mark McNulty and D.A. Weibring tied for second with third-round scores of 74 and 72, respectively.

2004
Champion: Gil Morgan - 202 (-14)
Runner-up: Larry Nelson - 204 (-12)

Recap:
Perfect weather greeted the pros in 2004 and Gil Morgan shined with three rounds in the 60s en route to his 14-under 202 score. He opened the tournament tied with four other players for the early lead with a 67 on Friday and followed that up with a 66 on Saturday, the lowest round of the day. He held off any challengers with 69 on Sunday, a day in which 18 players shot scores in the 60s, including Joe Inman's low round of 64.

2003
Champion: Tom Purtzer - 135 (-9) *36 hole event due to weather
Runner-up: Gil Morgan - 136 (-8)

Recap:
Mother Nature played a role in the event, forcing postponement of the second round and reducing the tournament to 36 holes. Gil Morgan had the Friday lead with a 7-under 65, one shot ahead of John Schroeder. With lift, clean and place rules in effect on Sunday, Tom Purtzer backed up his opening round 67 with a 68 to win the tournament. Morgan slipped to second with a 71 on Sunday.

2002
Champion: Tom Kite - 212 (-4) *won in playoff
Runner-up: Tom Watson - 212 (-4)

Recap:
Two of the greatest names in golf battled it out over the Valencia CC layout, with Tom Kite prevailing on the second playoff hole to defeat Tom Watson. Both players were deadlocked 4-under 212 through 54 holes of play. Watson was the second-round leader, holding a two-shot lead over Kite, Gil Morgan and Doug Johnson. Johnson faded with a 76 on Sunday and Morgan closed with a 70. Kite recorded a 3-under 69 opposite Watson's closing round 71 to force the playoff.

2001
Champion: Jim Colbert - 204 (-12)
Runner-up: Jose Maria Canizares - 205 (-11)

Recap:
Rain saturated the course early in the week in the inaugural event at Valencia CC. Playing lift, clean and place in the fairway only in the first round, Bob Charles and Jose Maria Canizares opened the scoring with a pair of 65s to lead the early going. Larry Nelson stormed out of the pack with a 64 on Saturday to share the lead with Jim Colbert, who had turned in back-to-back 67s. Canizares was still hanging around one-shot back through 36 holes and stayed in that position as he and Colbert matched 70s on their Sunday scorecards, crowning Colbert as the first winner at VCC. Nelson had a final round 72 to finish tied for 3rd.

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