By Scott Sonner/The Associated Press
RENO, Nev. — J.J. Henry thought he was overdue.
The 37-year-old Henry played in 176 tournaments on the PGA Tour before he claimed his first victory at the 2006 Buick Open and had played in another 178 events without winning.
That ended Sunday in the Reno-Tahoe Open when he held on to beat Alexandre Rocha of Brazil by a point in the modified Stableford event.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Henry, who picked up the $540,000 winner’s check to boost his career earnings to $12.7 million and earn a spot next week in the PGA Championship.
“I’ve been out here 12 straight years, so I’ve done something right,” the 2006 U.S Ryder Cup team member said. “But it’s been six years since I’ve won. To finally get over that hump again means a lot. … Hopefully, I don’t have to wait another 176 starts.”
Henry had seven points with four birdies and a bogey Sunday to finish with 43 for the tournament. Players received eight points for double eagle, five for eagle, two for birdie and zero for par. They were docked a point for bogey and three points for anything worse.
Argentina’s Andres Romero was third with 37 points, followed by John Mallinger with 34.
John Daly and Justin Leonard tied for fifth at 33. It was Daly’s best finish since 2005.
Henry had three birdies during a four-hole stretch on the front nine, then mostly stayed out of trouble on the mountain course’s more difficult back nine as the wind picked up late in the day at the 7,472-yard Montreux Golf & Country Club course on the edge of the Sierra.
Rocha, who led after the second round, needed to eagle the par-5 18th to have a chance to become the first Brazilian winner on the PGA Tour, but had to scramble for birdie after his approach bounced into the gallery left of the green.
Henry two-putted for par from 12 feet to secure the victory, which also secures his tour card for another two years.
“Alex played great and really kept the pressure on down the stretch to make it interesting out there,” Henry said. “To be honest, those are some stressful holes coming in — 16, 17, 18. There’s a lot of drama and a lot of things that kind of go through your mind, good, bad and indifferent on those last couple of holes.”
Henry’s best finish this year had been a tie for third at the Byron Nelson Championship, where he led by a shot with two holes to go and said he probably should have won.
This week, he had precious eagles in each of the first three rounds in the scoring system that rewards aggressive play. The format hadn’t been used on the PGA Tour since the 2006 International in Colorado.
A reporter pointed out that under traditional medal play, Henry and Rocha would have tied at 17 under.
“Well, it’s not stroke play though,” Henry answered, smiling. “It is what it is.”
Henry parred his first four holes Sunday, then made birdies from 24 feet on the par-4 fifth and 15 feet on the sixth. He added a third when he hit his drive 380 yards on the 636-yard eighth, hit his third shot to 6 feet and made the putt.
He opened a six-point lead when he made a 3-foot birdie on the 15th, but bogeyed the 16th and watched his lead shrink to three when Rocha answered with a 6-foot birdie putt.
That left Rocha trailing 43-40 but still in the tourney headed to the 597-yard downhill closing hole guarded by a pond on the right.
Rocha drove left in the waste area, but it kicked out into the fairway about 315 yards from the green. His approach hit a cart path and bounced into the gallery left of the green.
He was able to get up and down for birdie, but Henry hit his 12-foot birdie attempt inside a foot and tapped in for par.
The 34-year-old Rocha has won nine times around the world since 2000 when he was an All-American at Mississippi State but still in search of his first PGA Tour win in his second full year on tour.
“This is a whole new level for me,” Rocha said. “I’ve never been in this position before. In fact, I’ve never been anywhere near this position before,” he said.
His previous best finish was a tie for 20th at the 2011 Children’s Miracle Network Classic in Las Vegas.
“Having been under the gun for three days now, playing in the last group for the last two days, which is also a first for me — I thought I did pretty good,” said Rocha, who had a birdie-birdie-birdie-eagle start on Friday. “I couldn’t be any happier with the performance week.”
Henry had three previous top-10 finishes at Reno — a tie for ninth in 2009, tie for fourth in 2005 and tie for third in 2002. He said he’d been playing well for the past six weeks and had a good feeling about his chances this time around as well.
“I even said to some friends and my caddie — not to sound cocky or full of yourself, but I really thought I was going to have a great week,” Henry said. “Sometimes when you believe it, good things happen. And that’s exactly what happened this week for me.”