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Desert Breeze

D.J. Trahan roars past Justin Leonard with a closing 65 to capture the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and his second tour victory

D.J. Trahan

Major lift: A lot of short-game work paid off for Trahan, who was 167th in putting last year but first last week.

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January 25, 2008

After four rounds of big wheels taking noisy carts to strange places, the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic stage was cleared of imposters Sunday for actual golfers such as Justin Leonard. He has won this marathon before, he is back in the sport's good graces following a brief contretemps and he has that look again of a guy who doesn't ask for directions. Lo and behold, the gritty Texan ran into another guy who leads with his jaw, D.J. Trahan. The two of them engaged in a nifty stare fight, but after five hours plus on a breezy but manageable afternoon at the Classic Club, spectators who avoided football and occupied the half-full bleachers framing the 18th hole were spared any drama. Trahan had so completely taken command that he could afford to lay up on the par 5. He birdied, of course, because that is how you shoot 65 for 26-under 334 to register your second PGA Tour victory at age 27 with surprising ease.

"D.J. earned it because he played great, but he had help," offered Leonard, who could not have imagined that his birdie at No. 7, where Trahan made bogey, would be his final circle on the card. Trahan, four down again as he was at day's start, admitted he wasn't "particularly optimistic" either. After all, Trahan mused while clutching his $918,000 cardboard-replica check, Leonard is a major champion, a Ryder Cup hero and one tough hombre. But history says that Hope front-runners after 72 holes tend to stall for some reason. Maybe it's their biological clocks. Whatever, only 19 of 49 have prevailed, and Leonard isn't among them, not with 39 whacks on the back nine for an unimposing 72. Good for solo second, three behind Trahan, and one ahead of Kenny Perry and local favorite Anthony Kim, but not good enough.

"Compared with last year, when I missed my first six cuts starting here and got lost for a while, I suppose it's progress," Leonard reasoned. "And a few years ago, before I had kids and developed a stronger faith, I really would be beating myself up now. But it's still disappointing."

Just don't suggest that Leonard has shed some his desire. Someone did earlier in the tournament, and Leonard quickly issued a correction. What he couldn't erase Sunday were those oddly wayward projectiles, beginning at No. 9, where he settled for par against Trahan's birdie. Then at No. 10, a two-shot swing. Trahan putted once from 32 feet, Leonard thrice after he overcooked the first. They tied at No. 11, where Leonard bogeyed from a bunker, and Trahan moved to 25 under with a birdie at No. 14, where Leonard's chip pulled up well shy. When the latter rued about not giving himself a chance thereafter, he does not exaggerate. Leonard's tee ball on No. 15 landed in the pine straw, on No. 16 burrowed in the sand and on No. 18 vanished in the water. "Thought I needed eagle and tried to hit it too hard," he sighed.

Amazed at such a meltdown? Here's another bulletin: Trahan, the former Clemson star whose first triumph was the 2006 Southern Farm Bureau Classic, has teeth. An unsmiling poker face during business hours, Trahan was all grins in the post-mortems, particularly when informed that he led the field in putting. The short stick has been his bane. He ranked 169th on tour in 2007. "But he started turning it around toward the end of last year," said caddie Todd Sunderland, Trahan's pal since second grade. "Now, every day, we do a drill. He has to make 100 six-footers in a row." As for Trahan's demeanor, Sunderland conveyed the obvious: "D.J. is not someone you have to remind about staying focused." There wasn't much conversation in the lead threesome that included Robert Gamez, but as Trahan said, "when you're trying to win a golf tournament, the object is to concentrate. I don't have much trouble with that. Even after five days here, on four different courses. When you're trying to win, there's no fatigue factor."

Trahan competed in two previous Hopes, but had achieved only one round in the 60s -- again, because this is a putting contest, and he didn't join the fun. His pre-Sunday numbers this time -- 67, 64, 68, 70 -- bespeak a learning curve for another twentysomething who grew up in golf country (Hilton Head Island), was encouraged but not forced by a father, Don (D.J. stands for Don Jr.), then matriculated to a high-profile college program with a team that produced, among others, Lucas Glover and Jonathan Byrd. "Naturally, you have high expectations for yourself," said Trahan, who sensed he belonged after his first tour trophy, and now knows it well enough to consider buying that piece of property back home so as to satisfy his hunting and fishing habits.

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