Patton: Hope is for PGA's young

Jan 24 2011 - 5:26pm

LA QUINTA, Calif. -- If you like to root for weathered veterans, golfers whose last victory might have come in a previous millennium, you're probably out of luck at the Bob Hope Classic.

If you're bias is "the older the better," you've come to the wrong place. If a guy's next big moment will probably be on the Champions Tour, he's not going to contend at the Hope.

This tournament is for the kids, the 20-somethings. The Hope is for people who can play a competitive round, then dance all night. When they go to the 19th hole, they get carded.

Sunday's final round ended up in a playoff among two 26-year-olds -- Jhonattan Vegas and Gary Woodland -- and defending champion Bill Haas, the graybeard at 28.

Haas, apparently, already has aged out of his Hope window of opportunity, bowing out on the first playoff hole.

Vegas won on the second extra hole, becoming the fourth golfer in the last five years to use the Hope for his first PGA Tour victory.

In all, there were eight tour rookies playing on Sunday. It's like a nest, full of Q-school graduates and Nationwide Tour alums learning to fly.

Vegas said he never stressed about his wobbly play down the stretch because he wasn't the only wobbler out there.

"We are young guys here," Vegas said he told himself. "So I knew how tough it was going to be (for everyone)."

It was the kind of golf you might expect out of players so young they never heard Bob Hope tell a joke. On his final nine in regulation, Vegas suddenly couldn't hit a green. By the time he reached the string of holes (14-17) that hug the rocky mountainside, the bighorn sheep were taking cover on his iron shots.

He saved himself with a truckload of 8- to 15-foot putts until the 18th when he three-putted and bogeyed, dropping him out of sole possession of the lead for the first time in 16 holes. His winning playoff hole was a par putt, after he hit his tee shot in the water.

Woodland missed a ton of makeable putts on the back nine. He pretty much lost the tourney on the second playoff hole when he clocked a bunker shot across the green.

Even the defending champ wasn't immune.

"That was my first playoff and their first playoff on the PGA Tour, so there were nerves there for everybody," said Haas, whose first overtime shot went behind a tree, expediting his quick exit. "I think it showed."

Obviously there's a reason fledgling golfers make such a good showing here. The vast majority of veterans prefer to skip the 90 holes and the four days with amateur partners. That leaves plenty of room for newcomers, who see a golden opportunity to make some money with most of the sport's biggest names absent.

When the fifth and final round began Sunday, the top seven players on the leaderboard were in their 20s. When it ended, at least, four geezers in their 30s had taken advantage of erratic youth to push their way into the top seven.

But the biggest spoils went to the kids, and even the runner-up didn't seem particularly upset about missing his first, great opportunity to win.

Describing Vegas' remarkable winning par, Woodland said, "It was pretty cool ... so it was a good week, and I'll build on this and move on."

When you're 26, there's always a next time, and at least a couple of more Hopes.

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