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Call it fate or science, Verplank's win was a dream come true

Scott Verplank
Tony Gutierrez/AP
Scott Verplank shot a 4-under 66 in the final round.

IRVING, Texas, April 29 — You didn't need to see any of the 66 shots Scott Verplank played Sunday in the EDS Byron Nelson Championship's final round. You didn't need to see the two-footer he shook in for the victory that meant so much, the win of a lifetime.

You didn't need to see any of the 68 strokes played by Luke Donald, not even the valiant birdie try on the final green that would have forced a playoff. Or Phil Mickelson's chip-in for eagle. Or anything else.

Everything you needed to know about the Nelson happened in the few brief moments that seemed to last forever after Verplank holed that short winning putt. You could see the shock set in, the eyes glaze over and the disbelief. Then he looked to the sky, in the general direction of Byron Nelson's spirit, and said, "Thank you."

You don't have to believe in fate for this story, but Verplank does ... now. There was no other way to explain how Verplank pulled himself out of a long dry spell and conveniently won the tournament he'd always dreamed of winning, the tournament named after his friend and boyhood mentor, or why he did it now, the first time the dearly departed Nelson was no longer on hand.

Nelson wasn't there to watch this tournament, perhaps, but surely he was there to watch over it. At least, that's how Verplank saw it. He became close to Nelson as a teenager when Nelson called him, out of the blue, and talked admiringly about the scores he'd seen Verplank shoot and how well he'd played. And oh, by the way, would he like to get together? And would he like Mr. Nelson to offer some help? They'd been friends ever since. That's why the Nelson was Verplank's biggest win, his Masters and U.S. Open all in one.

"There's no question the stars lined up, and I got a little help from upstairs," he said. "I had some help out there. I walked off the last tee and I felt a cool breeze — and it wasn't cool out there."

Verplank wasn't the only one who felt that way. So did Peggy Nelson, Byron's widow. Verplank made the long walk from the green up some steps to the scoring trailer — it's not a long walk at all but on this day, at this moment, it was interminable. Peggy greeted him at the top of the steps and they hugged. "Byron picked the winner this week," she told him with misty eyes.

Do you believe in fate? "I guess I do," Verplank said. How can you not? "Byron had a hand in this," he added. "I felt like I was living a dream."

Why now? There was nothing to indicate that Verplank, who outdueled the third-round leader Luke Donald for his first victory since the 2001 Canadian Open, would suddenly get his game together this week, when play stopped during Saturday's third round for a moment of silence in honor of Mr. Nelson and a flyover by a foursome of local Air Force jets.

Verplank had broken 70 in only three of his previous 18 rounds. He was 27 over par in his last six stroke-play tournaments, and a tie for 18th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill was his only top-25 finish since he was eighth at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in January.

Then there was his bad shoulder. He withdrew from last year's Nelson after one round because of the pain. It has been bothering him severely this year, and this is a guy who's as tough as anybody on the PGA Tour when it comes to dealing with pain. He's fought the fatigue and pain of diabetes all of his adult life, and he's faced foot pain and bad elbows.

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