2005: Leonard’s Hope: One victory ‘not enough’
La Quinta, Calif.
Justin Leonard was beginning to wonder when that next victory was going to come. Now that it has – a little earlier than expected – he wants more.
After managing only three top 10s in 2004, including a disappointing near-miss at the PGA Championship, Leonard began the ’05 season with a bag full of new clubs, anxious to prove that his winless ’04 was an aberration.
Following his victory Jan. 30 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic – the first West Coast title of his career – that mission has been accomplished. Now Leonard can set his sights on a multiple-victory season, something he has accomplished only once in 11 years on the PGA Tour.
“I enjoy taking pressure off myself, because I’m usually a little more relaxed and have a little more fun,” said Leonard, who broke a victory drought of 1 year, 10 months, 14 days. “It will inspire me a bit, knowing that one (victory) is not enough.
“I’ve been sitting on eight (career) wins for almost two years, and it’s nice to get a ninth.”
Leonard’s 5-under-par 67 in the final round vaulted him to a 28-under 332 total and a comeback victory over Tim Clark (69) and faltering 72-hole leader Joe Ogilvie (73), who left the Palmer Course at PGA West still in search of his first title in six years on Tour. Leonard’s victory was worth $846,000, putting him over the $18 million mark for his career.
Trailing Ogilvie by three strokes at the start of the final round, Leonard needed only three holes to take the lead – making birdies on the first two holes, while Ogilvie was making bogeys on Nos. 1 and 3.
Leonard added two more birdies on the front nine, then Ogilvie made double bogey on the
par-4 10th – where Leonard made birdie – for a three-shot swing that increased the gap from one to four shots and dropped Ogilvie out of serious contention. Leonard made one last birdie at No. 11, then coasted to victory with seven consecutive pars.
The round had to be disheartening for Ogilvie, who had been tied for the lead or alone at the top since an opening-round 64 at the five-day event, although he managed to joke about it afterward.
“The rain dance didn’t work,” Ogilvie said.
“I was trying for a rainout today, but that didn’t happen.
“I certainly didn’t play the way I would have liked today, but I got a pretty good front-row seat for a great round of golf (by Leonard).”
Clark, coming off a victory at the South African Open in his native country the previous week, didn’t begin the Hope with high expectations.
After his South African victory, he spent approximately 36 hours traveling – and waiting between connections – on his way to California, and he had never seen any of the four courses used for the tournament.
“Coming here so far, such a travel, I didn’t expect much of a week,” said Clark, who left La Quinta with his best PGA Tour finish and $413,600.
It was Leonard, however, who had the best week of all, winning for the first time since the 2003 Honda Classic. He failed to win a title last year for only the second time since 1996, and after finishing in the top 25 in earnings for nine consecutive years, he finished a career-low 42nd and didn’t qualify for the Tour Championship for the first time since his rookie year of 1994.
The 32-year-old Texan, a longtime Ben Hogan staffer, began the new year by signing a lucrative endorsement deal with Nike to use the company’s 410cc Ignite driver, Forged Blade irons and Forged Pro Combo wedges. He kept his familiar Scotty Cameron putter, however, and it was the key club in his bag at the Hope, where he finished No. 1 in putts per round (25.6) and putts per green in regulation (1.561).
Such putting prowess, of course, would serve Leonard well a couple of months from now at Augusta National, a place that has been very kind to the previous two Hope winners. Mike Weir won the Masters after earning the Hope title in 2003, and Phil Mickelson followed suit in ’04.
“I would say it’s just coincidence, but look at the two guys who won (the Hope) the previous two years,” said Leonard, whose only major championship victory came at the 1997 British Open. “Two pretty good players who probably set up pretty well for Augusta. I love playing Augusta. I’m looking very much forward to it.
“I certainly hope to keep that streak alive.”