2006: A dream come true - JJ Henry

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1 Bubba Watson $1,620,000 600 -8
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Cromwell, Conn.

Most young American golfers grow up dreaming of winning the U.S. Open or another major championship. For J.J. Henry, it was always about winning in Hartford.

On July 2 the 31-year-old from Fairfield, Conn., made his first PGA Tour victory doubly sweet, scoring a three-shot victory in the event he attended while growing up.

“Every time I’d leave here I’d go back to the putting green or the driving range and pretend I was winning the tournament,” Henry said of his childhood visits to the tournament. “I thought how cool that would be someday, if I could be one of those guys and play against the best players in the world. It means the world to me.”

And he won for the hometown fans in style, hammering a 361-yard drive to within 80 yards of the green and giving him plenty of opportunity to enjoy the ovation from the thousands of fans lining the finishing hole at the TPC at River Highlands.

With a three-shot lead, there wasn’t much thought given to playing it safe on the 18th tee, at least not by caddie Matt Hauser, who pulled out the driver and gave his longtime pal a wink.

“Matt said, ‘Hey, you’re one of the best drivers out here. Just go out and enjoy it. Just rip it down there,’ ” said Henry, who shot 3-under 67 Sunday to finish at 14-under 266, three shots ahead of Hunter Mahan and Ryan Moore. Henry earned $792,000.

After his par putt rolled in, Henry pumped both fists and embraced Hauser, then celebrated with his family on the 18th green. Henry, who lives in Texas, was making his ninth appearance in the Hartford event, his first coming in 1998 as an amateur.

“His dad would bring him here when he was 5 years old,” Henry’s mother, Nancy, said. “This is where he’s grown up.”

The victory meant a lot more to Henry than just winning in front of the home folks. It earned his first bid to the British Open and vaulted him from 26th to sixth in Ryder Cup points.

“I know I still have a lot of work to do and there’s a lot of events still to go (before the Ryder Cup), but to play in the Open Championship, a place I’ve never played before . . . I’m pretty excited,” said Henry, who had finished second three times in his career, including to rookie J.B. Holmes at this year’s FBR Open, which Henry led by four shots after two rounds.

The last two days in Hartford, however, Henry didn’t show the nerves of a player seeking his first Tour victory. He made only three bogeys in the final 36 holes.

Not bad for a guy who three weeks earlier had given his caddie the day off after posting an 8-over 79 in the first round of the Barclays Classic. Henry told Hauser to relax, then asked his sports psychologist, Fran Pirizzolo, to walk with him during Round 2 at Westchester to get his frame of mind right for the U.S. Open.

“I’ve been struggling a bit mentally,” Henry said at the time, “and this was a good chance to get going on some things.”

Henry shot 77-77 at Winged Foot and missed the cut, but maybe there was a two-week delayed reaction.

He shot 7-under 63 in Round 3 at River Highlands to give him a two-stroke lead through 54 holes, and he wasted little time pulling away Sunday. He birdied Nos. 3, 8 and 9 and made the turn at 14-under with a five-stroke lead and plenty of momentum. His gallery grew with each hole, and when he sank a

14-foot birdie putt on the par-3 11th for a five-shot lead, the fans roared.

Henry gave one shot back with a bogey on the par-4 12th but got it back with a birdie at No. 14 before making a meaningless bogey on the par-4 17th. That was plenty to hold off a pair of youngsters who also were looking for their first victory.

Moore, a second-year player who had surgery on his left hand in March, seemed recovered after matching his career-best finish.

He just missed an eagle chip-in on No. 15 and made birdie to stay four back with three holes remaining. But Moore bogeyed No. 16 after sending his drive into a pond. He nearly eagled No. 18 when his approach from 110 yards skipped over the cup.

“When someone’s in a pretty comfortable position, with a big lead like that, someone needed to jump out right away and put pressure on him,” Moore said. “Obviously he didn’t falter.”

Mahan birdied his final two holes to clinch his best finish since he tied for second at the Reno-Tahoe Open in his rookie season of 2004.

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