SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Nev. — Vinny Del Negro became the first basketball player to win the American Century Championship, rallying for an emotional victory four days after his father died.
Del Negro, the 54-year-old former NBA player and coach making his 20th appearance in the celebrity tournament, choked back tears after the victory thinking about father Vincent. He died Wednesday in hospice at age 85.
“I lost my father this Wednesday, and I wanted to play well for him,” Del Negro said. “I thought of him the whole time — every fairway, every shot. What he would tell me? ‘Toughen up. Hit the shot. You’re either good enough or not. Just hit it..’ And I stuck to my game plan.”
Del Negro birdied the par-5 18th in regulation to force a playoff with John Smoltz and won with another birdie on the hole in a playoff.
Del Negro had a 20-point round at Edgewood Tahoe in the modified Stableford scoring event to match Smoltz (18) with a three-day total of 69.
Del Negro had two birdies and two bogeys for an even-par 72 in conventional scoring. Smoltz had four birdies and eight bogeys in a 76.
“I put myself in really bad spots,” Smoltz said. “The only thing I could say is I grinded out the ability to get to the last hole because I had some very plugged lies, and I didn’t play the type of golf you’ve got to play with a two-point lead.”
With Del Negro in the middle of the fairway on the first extra hole, Smoltz hit a low drive behind large trees in the right rough. The 54-year-old Hall of Fame pitcher tried to hit a high draw between and over the trees with an 8-iron from 200 yards, but smacked a limb and hit his third into the water left of the green.
Del Negro was just off the front edge of the green in two, left his third 12 feet short and made the birdie putt. He earned earned $125,000.
Tony Romo was third with 66 points after a 24-point day. World Golf Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam had an 18-point round to finish fourth at 64.
Charles Barkley tied for 76th among the 87 finishers at minus-28. He wagered $100,000 at 5-to-1 odds that he would finish in the top 70.