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Marc Turnesa's win was his first on Tour but old hat to his famous forebears
IT'S ONLY natural that Las Vegas is where so many young Tour players hit a career jackpot. The trend began in the mid-'90s when two guys you've probably heard of each made Vegas his first victory: Jim Furyk in 1995 and Tiger Woods in '96. Breakthroughs are now the norm in Sin City, as five years running the tournament has produced a first-time winner. This time around it was Marc Turnesa, a 30-year-old rookie who summoned a wire-to-wire triumph that was a monument to his talent and perseverance.
Turnesa, a North Carolina State grad, came up the hard way, apprenticing on mini-tours like Minor League Golf and the Gateway while flunking Q school five times. Last year he finished 16th on the Nationwide tour, earning his trip to the big leagues. He had never played a PGA Tour event until this year, but he certainly knew what to expect, thanks to the conversation at various Thanksgiving dinners. Turnesa comes from one of the great golf clans. His great-uncle Jim won the 1952 PGA Championship, and his grandfather Mike was a six-time winner on Tour. Mike had six brothers—five of them played the Tour, including Joe, a 15-time winner. The only brother who didn't turn pro, Willie, took the 1938 and '48 U.S. Amateurs and the '47 British Amateur. Marc is both proud and a little wary of his lineage. "It's hard to play on the PGA Tour, I don't care what your last name is," he says. "It's not any added pressure being a Turnesa."
Having taken the expected rookie lumps for most of the year, Turnesa turned around his rookie campaign—and career—by reaching a playoff (though losing) at last month's Viking Classic. The owner of a superb wedge game and one of the purest putting strokes on Tour, he was flat-out on fire upon arriving in Vegas, opening with a 10-under 62 at TPC Summerlin and then shooting a front-nine 31 on Friday. Birdies on 14, 15 and 16 had reporters digging through the Tour's record book for best 36-hole score, but then Turnesa made his worst swing of the week, a watery double bogey at the par-3 17th. That could have been a momentum killer, but on the very next hole he slammed in a nine-iron from 159 yards for an eagle that he later called the key shot of the tournament.
Turnesa protected his lead with a 69 in tougher conditions on Saturday. There were 12 players within four strokes at the outset of the final round, and Turnesa looked vulnerable on the front nine, later admitting, "I was just trying to breathe, really. That's the only thing I kind of knew how to do. I wasn't out-of-control nervous, but I was feeling it."
He steadied himself and then seized the tournament by birdieing four of six holes in the middle of the round, a stretch punctuated by another brilliant nine-iron, to within inches at the par-3 14th. Matt Kuchar, looking for his first victory in six years, shot a stellar 64, but pars on the final four holes doomed him to finish a stroke back.
There is no better city than Las Vegas in which to earn a $738,000 winner's check. Turnesa had scheduled an 8:40 departure on Sunday night. Needless to say, he missed the flight.