LA QUINTA, Calif. — Jhonattan Vegas made a 13-foot par putt on the second playoff hole to win the Bob Hope Classic on Sunday, holding off Gary Woodland for his first PGA Tour victory.
The first Venezuelan to win a PGA Tour event, the rookie won in just his fifth tour start despite hitting his tee shot in the water on the 92nd hole of the five-day tournament. Vegas capitalized when Woodland made two poor chip shots, pumping his fist in celebration after his putt fell.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Vegas, the first rookie to win the 52-year-old Hope. “It’s something you dream about, but you have to make it happen.”
Vegas and Woodland eliminated defending champion Bill Haas with birdies on the first playoff hole after all three finished the final round at 27-under 333. Vegas is the third straight player to get his first PGA Tour victory at the Hope, joining Pat Perez and Haas.
Vegas’ victory should give a boost to his desire to revive the sport in his native country, where it’s largely unpopular and criticized by President Hugo Chavez. Vegas left home at 17, moving to Houston to study golf and English before playing at the University of Texas.
“I hope they know about the story, and that it is possible to get to the PGA Tour and win,” Vegas said. “I hope people realize that all over the world.”
Playing one group apart, Haas and Vegas both missed short putts on the final regulation hole. A few minutes after Haas botched a 6-footer for birdie, Vegas couldn’t connect from 9 feet, making his only bogey of the final day.
Vegas and Woodland closed with 3-under 69s and Haas shot a 66.
Woodland and Vegas shared the lead after each of the final three rounds, and Woodland got into the playoff with a birdie on the final regulation hole. The former college basketball player from Kansas also was seeking his first PGA Tour win.
“Seemed like we were out there forever,” Woodland said. “We were grinding all day. Jhonattan got off to a pretty good start, and I was just trying to catch him all day, so the playoff was no different. It was just sudden death, but who made the first mistake? And it looked like I did.”
With the light fading rapidly behind the San Jacinto Mountains in the Palm Springs area, Vegas shook his head in dismay after dropping his tee shot in the water on the second playoff hole — but Woodland showed a bigger case of nerves with the win in sight. His approach shot landed in a bunker, and his sand shot trickled to the opposite side of the green.
After his drop, Vegas confidently put his exceptional approach shot behind the pin before holing a $900,000 putt.
Vegas cut a confident figure on the Palmer Private course earlier Sunday, wearing a neon-peach shirt with starkly white pants and Nike hat. He was followed by his mother and his father, who got his son into the game while selling food and tending a nine-hole course in a remote oil-drilling camp along the Orinoco River.
“Life for me hasn’t been always the best,” Vegas said. “I had to fight to get where I am. I’m a fighter, and if I set a goal in front of me, I’ll die just to get there.”
Vegas has expressed a desire to speak with Chavez, hoping to change the president’s mind about the sport that Chavez has decried as a pastime of the rich. The government has closed six courses in the past seven years.
While Vegas saved pars on the 15th and 16th holes with solid putts, Woodland appeared unable to make up for his early mistakes until he pulled back within one stroke on the 16th, putting a 103-yard shot from the fairway within 4 feet for an easy birdie.
At almost the same moment Vegas barely missed a 26-foot birdie putt on the 17th green, Haas missed his birdie putt on the 18th. Woodland then missed a 4½-foot par putt, falling two strokes behind Vegas heading to the 18th.
Vegas’ approach shot on the 18th was 47 feet short, and he failed to two-putt to victory.
Ryan Palmer shot an 8-under 64 in the final round to finish fourth at 26 under, while Brian Gay’s 10-under 62 shot him up from 37th place to a tie for fifth with Kevin Na (67) at 24 under.