D.J. Trahan overtakes faltering Leonard to win Hope Classic

D.J. Trahan overtakes faltering Leonard to win Hope Classic

Trahan's five birdies on the front nine put him back in contention Sunday.
Harry How/Getty Images

PALM DESERT, Calif. (AP) — D.J. Trahan has been eyeing a farm in his native South Carolina, and with his biggest paycheck in his pocket, he may reward himself.

“I enjoy hunting and I have a little piece of land that I’ve been looking at. I wasn’t going to allow myself to partake in that until I felt I deserved it,” he said. “So now I might do that. We’ll see.”

Trahan had just wrapped up his most lucrative day on the PGA Tour, earning $914,000 for winning the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic on Sunday. He came from four strokes back to shoot a 7-under 65 and overtake Justin Leonard, who had a 39 on the last nine holes and shot 72 to finish three strokes behind in second.

The victory was the second for the 27-year-old Trahan, a former Clemson All-American heading into his fourth season on the tour. His first win was at Madison, Miss., in 2006.

He finished the five-day Hope at 26-under 334, and beat out former British Open champion Leonard, a 35-year-old with 11 tour titles.

Outplaying someone with Leonard’s credentials made the victory even more special, Trahan said.

“I totally did not expect Justin to fold at any time, and why should you expect him to? He’s got a fantastic track record, a Ryder Cup, a major championship,” Trahan said. “You know the guy’s clutch and he’s a great player.

“So to have run him down today and win the golf tournament means a lot.”

Leonard was disappointed, of course, but encouraged as well. Last year, he missed the cut in the first six events – including the Hope – before finally getting his game going in July.

He began this season by tying for eighth in the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship.

“I get some perspective in the fact that at this time last year, I was pretty lost,” he said. “That gives me a bit of comfort, but still it only takes a little bit of the sting out of it, not all of it.”

Trahan knew heading into the final round of the 90-hole tournament that he faced a challenge in overcoming Leonard’s four-shot lead.

“You certainly don’t feel particularly optimistic about it when you’re playing against a guy like Justin Leonard,” Trahan said. “I wasn’t playing against a rookie who was in the lead for the first time.

“I don’t know how many times he’s won on tour, but it’s definitely more than me.”

Leonard remained very much in it near the end, one shot back with one hole left, before his drive went into the water on No. 18. He took a bogey 6 and Trahan birdied.

“I played solid the first eight holes, was 3 under,” Leonard said. “Obviously D.J. was playing very well. I just didn’t get that (good play) to the back nine and he did. That was the difference.

“To have a four-shot lead and come out and play as well as I did the first eight holes, and lose a golf tournament is disappointing.”

Trahan quickly turned what had threatened to be a runaway into a duel when he picked up four shots over three holes beginning at No. 9. He sank an 8-foot birdie putt on the ninth hole, rolled in a 40-footer from the back fringe on the 10th, then parred the 11th while Leonard went par-bogey-bogey.

Trahan took the lead for good with an 8-footer for birdie on No. 14 to go to 25 under.

He finished as the best putter in the tournament, averaging 26 putts per round.

“Pardon me for smiling, but I’ve never heard anybody tell me that before,” said Trahan, who normally isn’t known for his putting.

The win puts him in this year’s Masters, his second trip to Augusta. He missed the cut as an amateur in 2001.

Notes: The tournament lost one of its bigger gallery draws when John Daly dropped out after three rounds, telling officials he had a rib injury. He was tied for 75th at 4 under after 54 holes. The withdrawal was his 12th in tour events over the past two years. … Comedian George Lopez, the tournament host, and actor teammates Samuel L. Jackson and Luke Wilson won the four-day amateur portion of the event at 59 under. Although Lopez joked earlier that, among other ways to cheat, he would try to get to his ball first to ensure himself a good lie every time. But he and his team won the amateur title legitimately.

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