SILVIS, Ill. -- Mark Hensbytook a took long, difficult
route to the PGA Tour.
Early in his career, he slept on clubhouse rooftops in his
native Australia. When he arrived in the United States 10 years
ago, he lived out of his car for a month.
He eventually qualified for the Nationwide Tour, where he spent
six long years before earning his way onto the PGA Tour. He's the
Nationwide's No. 2 career earnings leader -- a dubious achievement.
But after winning the John Deere Classic on Sunday for his first
PGA Tour title, he said he wouldn't have it any other way.
"I grew up from a background with not a lot of money and not
much help," he said. "This is more rewarding to me, knowing that
I did a lot of it myself."
It was his first victory, but it wasn't a surprise. Hensby had
been close all year. He tied for third last week in the Western
Open after holding a share of the lead in the final round.
He also tied for third in the Chrysler Classic and was second in
the BellSouth Classic.
Hensby won when he tapped in for par on the second hole of a
playoff with England's John Morgan, who hit his drive on the par-3
16th far left of the green and into thick brush.
Hitting from a difficult stance, Morgan chipped across the green
and into the bunker. He nearly made the sand shot, but could only
stand and watch as Hensby two-putted for par and the $685,000
Hensby birdied five of the first eight holes to rally from four
shots down, and finished regulation tied for the lead at 16 under.
"I played extremely well toward the end of last year, and I
knew if I could keep that momentum going into this year that I
would do all right," Hensby said.
Adding to the drama, play was suspended because of rain during
the first extra hole with both players standing over long birdie
putts. After a delay of about an hour, the two came back out and
made par to move onto what proved to be the deciding hole.
Morgan had three straight birdies on the back nine to pull
within a shot of Hensby. On the 16th, the fiery Morgan drained a
14-footer, pumped his fists several times and yelled "Come on!"
to the delight of the crowd.
Needing a birdie on the 18th to pull even with Hensby, Morgan
holed a 30-footer that drew a huge roar from the crowd.
Morgan's emotions spilled over, knowing he now had a shot at
playing in the British Open with a victory. He pulled the ball from
the hole, kissed it and crouched down for several moments to calm
his nerves while his playing partners finished their round.
Morgan then traded high-fives with the crowd as he trotted up a
hill to await Hensby's finish, signing autographs on the way.
"I was loving it," he said. "I was just getting more and more
emotional as it was going on, and come 18, it just polished me off.
It just obliterated me right there."
There was more to come for Morgan.
Hensby qualified for the British Open as the top finisher who
was not already exempt, but declined the spot. Hensby said he has
no experience playing on links courses.
"I just don't feel like I could go over there and play my best
golf," he said. "I've traveled all of the world and a I know it's
just not that easy to climatize yourself.
"It was really a no-brainer."
PGA Tour officials then incorrectly told Morgan he would get the
spot. The Englishmen was thrilled and said, "I feel like a winner,
I really do. It'll take a bit of time to sink in."
Hopefully for Morgan, it never did.
Much later, a tour official announced that the spot would not go
to Morgan. After speaking with British Open organizers, the tour
was told there is no clause that allows a player to pass the spot
on to the next-highest finisher.
"It would have been lovely," Morgan said. "It's just one of
those things. You've got to follow the rules. They apologized to
me. It's a shame."
Argentina's Jose Coceres, the leader after each of the first
three rounds, shot a 71 to finish third at 15 under. Vijay Singh,
the 2003 winner, was another stroke back along with Joel Kribel,
Greg Chalmers and Steve Stricker.