Monday, May 17, 2010

Justin Hicks wins Nationwide Tour event

GREENVILLE, South Carolina -- Justin Hicks outlasted everyone, including Mother Nature, to earn his second career Nationwide Tour title Sunday. Hicks shot a final-round 66 at the Thornblade Club to win the BMW Charity Pro-Am presented by two strokes over a quartet of players and earn the $108,000 first-place cheque.
Needing only a two-putt par at the final green, Hicks rolled in a three-foot birdie to finish at 20-under 266, two strokes better than Kevin Chappell (68), Tommy Gainey (67), Chris Kirk (66) and Jamie Lovemark (65).
Fabian Gomez, the 54-hole leader and a playoff runner-up here a year ago, bogeyed the final hole for a 1-over 72 and solo sixth place.
The win is Hicks' first since capturing the 2008 Ford Wayne Gretzky Classic in a play-off over Casey Wittenberg.
"The first puts you on the map," said Hicks. "The second one says that you're not a one-hit wonder. I'd like to think I can make a career out of this game. It will probably take a day or two before this sinks in. Right now it just feels like I won the race for the day, not the whole tournament."
Hicks began the final round tied for fourth, three shots back of Gomez, but the pro-am format left him paired with the overnight leader.
"When I first saw the pairings, I thought it was a mistake," he said. "I had to check several places to make sure."
Hicks moved into contention with three birdies over his first six holes, joining a pack that, at one time, had five players tied for the lead and another five just one shot back.
"I kept saying all week it was going to be a shoot-out," said the winner. "We just had to stay patient enough and keep giving ourselves plenty of opportunities. I know I've had better putting weeks than this but my ball-striking took me home this week."
Hicks kept hitting it close all day and all week. The transplanted Floridian missed only five greens in four days. Hicks hit all 18 the first day, 17 in rounds 2 and 3, and 15 during the final round.
Birdies at Nos. 14 and 15 put Hicks at minus-19 and he held a tenuous one-shot lead when a thunderstorm rolled through the area, forcing him, Gomez and Gomez' amateur partner off the course just after they hit their tee shots on the 72nd hole.
"I've learned over the years that the best defense is a good offense," said Hicks. "I knew birdie would take care of everything and a par would be probably be good enough."
The delay began at 3:40 p.m. and lasted an hour.
"The break was great," said Hicks. "We just went to a place nearby where it was quiet. We listened to music and relaxed. I know how to play this game and I didn't want to be around a bunch of people telling me what I needed to do."
When Hicks returned to the 18th fairway, the tournament was on the line. Four players were done at 18 under and hoping for a playoff. Gomez had a shot to reach 19 under as well. A bogey by the leader would have resulted in a playoff.
Gomez's second shot came up short in a greenside bunker, essentially ending his chances.
That left it up to Hicks. With the ball slightly below his feet, Hicks' 7-iron from 173 yards landed a little bit right of his aiming point, but was nearly perfect, stopping pin high and three feet away.
"I don't like looking at the leaderboard. I just try to play my best golf," he said. "I'm out there playing a game and if it's good enough, it's good enough."

Kevin Chappell, who bogeyed the final hole to wind up in a four-way tie for second place, still earned $39,600, enough to jump into the No. 1 spot on the money list. He has pocketed $190,621 -- that's $4,328 more than Bobby Gates, who had held the top spot since winning the season-opening Michael Hill New Zealand Open.
A total of 14 teams advanced to Sunday's round in the pro-am portion of the tournament. The team of Scott Gutschewski and amateur Rolf Klam finished at 47 under par for four days, four shots better than pro Rob Oppenheim and Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Jim Rice.



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