Poker pro Jody Garaventa wins the third World Series of Golf tournament in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS - It was fitting that 18 holes wasn't enough to decide the 2009 World Series of Golf winner. After all, the event, which pits the strategy of poker and players' golf ability, featured 125 players from around the world (31 states and six countries were represented) gunning for the $300,000 top prize.

Jody Garaventa - 09 World Series of Golf winner
North Carolina poker pro Jody Garaventa, an 11-handicap, won the 2009 World Series of Golf tournament at Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort.
Jody Garaventa - 09 World Series of Golf winner2009 World Series of Golf - Final FiveRay Romano - 09 World Series of GolfDaniel Negreanu - 09 World Series of Golf

The event was played May 12-14 at the Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort in Las Vegas. LasVegasGolf.com is one of the event's sponsors.

In the end, 33-year-old North Carolina poker pro Jody Garaventa, an 11-handicap, beat Pittsburgh bar owner Kevin Dumont, 53 and a 3-handicap, for the crown.

"I kept giving myself chances," Garaventa said. "And in the end it paid off. But it was a tough road to get here."

The tournament started with 25 fivesomes. Each player put up $10,000 to enter the event. Players teed off, then bet among their fivesome with players able to call a bet, fold or raise. The amount of the bet could run anywhere from each particular hole's ante all the way up to an all-in bet. If players hit a great drive and others were in trouble, they could push the action with bigger bets. On the flip side, if players hit a bad shot, they had the option of folding and moving on to the next hole. But, with antes doubling every three holes (from $100 to $200 to $400, etc. on the first day), the choice to fold would start to get a little expensive.

Players were out of the tournament if they lost a hole after going all-in (if another player or players had them covered in chip count) or if players didn't have enough money to afford the ante.

After the opening day, the field was whittled down to 25 players, each of the fivesomes' winning player. It was simple, win all the money from your group and you advance.

The second day saw the same format with five fivesomes on the golf course with antes starting at $500. The winning player from each fivesome advanced to the finale on the famed Wolf Course at Paiute.

Garaventa and Dumont were joined by Jorge Campos (fifth place and $30,000), David Morton (fourth place and $40,000) and KJ Fohannesen (third place and $50,000). Dumont won $100,000 for finishing second.

Dumont had a chance to win the event in regulation, having Garaventa covered when both went all-in on the final hole. A three-putt shifted the momentum as Garaventa took a commanding lead as the two headed for a playoff.

"I really didn't play all that well and I was pretty lucky to get here," Dumont, playing from the tips throughout the tournament, said. "But I hung on and had a chance. It was tough hitting 4-irons into greens when everyone else is hitting 7-irons. I really lost it on the 18th hole the first time when I three-putted."

The first playoff hole saw Dumont with barely enough money left in his bankroll for the ante, $160,000. His pocketbook was down to $170,000 while Garaventa had a healthy lead at $1,080,000.

That made Dumont's options simple: win the hole to stay alive. He did just that when Garaventa's drive found the water.

That set the stage for the final hole with Garaventa hitting a clutch shot from the rough to 20 feet and two-putting for the win. The final putt, from 18 inches, sealed the victory but wasn't as short as it looked to spectators.

"That was the longest 18-inch putt I've ever had," Garaventa said with a smile after holing the winner. "I just had to take a moment to compose myself before I hit it. I was shaking pretty bad."

Garaventa noted that his consistency was the key to winning. "It just seemed like every time I had to hit a good shot, I'd hit it. I always gave myself a chance and in the end, that's all you can ask for."

Ray Romano and Daniel Negreanu return to World Series of Golf

Actor/comedian Ray Romano was one of those back for another shot in the event, but like his first effort in 2008 he failed to advance to the second round. "I do play both golf and poker," he said. "I love them both. But, I'm not good at either of them."

Romano said the tournament is an exciting event. "I play in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am and this certainly matches the adrenalin," he said. "It's just a lot of fun."

Poker superstar Daniel Negreanu, was also back for his second year in the event, loves the format.

"It levels the playing field," Negreanu said. "If you've got the advantage on a hole, you can up the bet and put pressure on. It's great. I've played it with friends as well. It mixes two things we love, poker and golf, very well."

And this time, Negreanu made it to the second round.

"That's a good thing," he said. "Last year I hit my first drive about 30 yards - true story. This year's been much better."

But in the end, the week belonged to Garaventa. He outplayed and outlasted a field that consisted of comedians (Romano and Tom Driessen), poker pros (Negraneau, Chris Ferguson, Phil Ivey and others), athletes (Greg Maddux, representing LasVegasGolf.com) and everyday people looking to prove they have what it takes to win in one of golf's toughest formats.

"I played smart, solid golf," Garaventa said. "I came in wanting to play well and compete. To win it is just icing on the cake."

 
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