Senden heading to Augusta following Valspar win

John Senden is Augusta National bound after a dramatic victory in the Valspar Championship on the famed Copperhead course at the Innisbrook Resort Tampa Bay.

Senden came from a shot behind heading into the final round to birdie two of his closing three holes and win by a stroke from American Kevin Na with a final round 70 for a seven under par tally.

Senden set up victory taking the venom out of the famed Snake Pit and the affectionate name for the three hole closing stretch – the par four 16th named Moccasin, the par three 17th named Rattler and the uphill par four 18th known as Copperhead.

In fact, Senden clipped a tree with his second shot into 16 leaving himself 68-feet to the flag from where he holed out and raised his right fist in delight.

He then took the venom out of the 17th by holing a superb 21-foot putt for birdie before finding the green in regulation at the last but still some 12 yards to the hole and needing to negotiate a ridge and a right to left breaking putt.

However Senden calmly rolled his putt to just five inches for a simple tap-in and a par in his round of 70.

John Senden John Senden (Credit: Anthony Powter)

He then emerged from the scorer’s hut and along with Ian Triggs and his caddy watched and waited to see if Na would force a play-off. But when Na missed his 40-foot birdie putt Senden was assured the title with Na closing with a 72 and second place on six under par.

It is Senden’s first PGA victory in eight years since breaking through to capture the 2006 John Deere Classic to earn a place in the following week’s British Open.

Senden’s win assures him an invitation to return to next month’s Masters and join fellow Queenslander Adam Scott as the defending Masters champion along with three other Australians including Jason Day, Marc Leishman and US Amateur runner-up Oliver Goss in the year’s first major.

And after being runner-up on the Copperhead course twice before in 2007 and 2008 Senden was delighted in his 11th appearance to finally step forward as the 2014 champion and be the first Australian to win the title.

“I’ve been working really hard with my coach, Ian Triggs and he was out here this week with me this week and that has been great,” he said.

“After two days I was one over par and feeling like I was getting a little bit busy with the mind out there with the conditions but trying to really concentrate on some good thoughts with the swing.”

“My chipping and putting was right there for the week so I managed to control my swing speed all day, both days of the weekend and that really felt like I was more in control mentally to handle the conditions.”

“But I just love coming here and having finished runner-up twice before gave me the confidence to come out on top today, so this is a dream come true.”

Indeed Senden set up his second success in the States with a sizzling third round 64 when he needed just 27 putts for his lowest score in 40 rounds of the Tampa Bay course since first contesting the event in 2002.

However the fanatic Brisbane Bronco fan’s biggest discomfort was in handling the very heavy and unique paint brush trophy (Valspar are the world’s 6th largest manufacturers of paint and coatings) while he also receives a $US 1.026m first prize cheque.

“Boy, this trophy’s heavy,” he was heard to say at the presentation trophy.

Also disappointing was the fact his wife, Jackie and young son, Jacob had returned home on Saturday night to their Dallas residence as Jacob was due back in school Monday morning.

Senden now joins Day as the second Australian-born winner on the PGA Tour this year after his fellow Queenslander captured last month’s WGC – Accenture Match-Play Championship.

His win speaks volumes for the 42-year-old, who ended last year finishing outside the top 100 on the PGA Tour money list for the first time since 2004 and following a rib muscle damage caused knock on issues in his usually flawless swing.

It saw Senden plummet from a career-high of 28th in the world in 2012 to arriving in Tampa Bay lying 123rd on the rankings.

However a third place finish behind Rory McIlroy and Scott in last December’s Emirates Australian Open at Royal Sydney, where Senden had held aloft the Stonehaven Trophy in 2006, proved a huge turning point.

“It’s one of those things where you gain confidence from playing well at home and then bringing it into a new PGA Tour season,” he said.

“I had finished third behind Rory and Scotty in Sydney late last year, and two of the top players in the world, and I took that confidence into the New Year which I have been so far this season.”

Senden is the first Australian to win the Valspar Championship and he is also the first player in his 40s to win on this year’s 2013/14 wraparound schedule.

And while Senden prepares for his fifth Masters appearance, his victory in Florida also opens the door for automatic entry into the WGC – Bridgestone Invitational along with the following week’s PGA Championship and next year’s 2015 Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii.

However while Senden was extremely calm in victory the same could not be said for his long-time coach, ‘Triggsy’.

He was virtually on ‘cloud nine’ trying to soak in the enormity of Senden’s victory but also conscious he needed to rush to the airport just minutes after Senden had claimed victory for his flight to Phoenix.

“I don’t know what to say and I’m just speechless,” said Triggs proudly wearing his Brookwater Golf and Country Club cap.

“I’ve been coaching John since he was 13-years old and I’ve now been present at each of his victories. But it’s been a tough road back to the top for John given the chest injury he had last year.”

“But given he’s been such a great ball-stricker for many years it was all about getting him through some of the mental processes, and just working mainly on tempo and keeping his emotions calm.

“That’s pretty much what we worked on all week, and now we’re going back to Augusta, unbelievable.”

Triggs was bound for Phoenix where he will work at this week’s JTBC Founders Cup with former winner and reigning Australian Ladies Masters champion, Karrie Webb and four others including Malaysia’s Kelly Tan.

Senden was heading back to Dallas for two nights with his family before heading to Orlando on Tuesday to begin preparations for the Arnold Palmer Invitational.