Monday, May 03, 2010

Martin Piller wins his first US Nationwide Tour title

ATHENS, Georgia -- Texan Martin Piller won a Sunday duel with Daniel Summerhays and New Zealand's Bradley Iles and captured the Stadion Athens Classic at UGA for his first career Nationwide Tour title.
The 24-year-old Piller posted an even-par 71 at the University of Georgia Golf Course and finished at 12-under 272, one better than Summerhays, who was tied for the lead with playing partner Piller, but bogeyed the final hole after pushing his 6-iron from the fairway and failing to get up and down for par.
Piller, meantime, stuffed an 8-iron from 173 yards to within 8 feet to put the pressure on.
"It definitely felt a little like match play. I knew it was just us on 18," said Piller. "I wasn't going to play scared on 18 and I wanted to make him hit a good shot. I thought it was going to be a tough up-and-down but I figured he'd make a par."
From behind the green, Summerhays' chip shot scooted 12 feet past the cup and when he missed his par attempt, Piller needed only to two-putt for the win.
"I was shaking. I couldn't believe how nervous I was," said the Tour's sixth first-time winner in eight events. "It was the first time in my life that I really thought about how hard it was to two-putt. Luckily the putt was straight uphill. I couldn't have had an easier putt."
Piller nudged his putt to within inches and tapped in for the victory, his first since the 2008 Texas State Open, which happened to be his first professional start.
"Winning my first pro tournament was pretty awesome. That was a miracle and it definitely changed my life. I might not be here if I hadn't won that one," he said. "This one is right there next to it. I always felt like I belonged. Now it's a reality."
Piller, who started the fourth round one back of Summerhays, was nothing but steady during the wind-swept Sunday pressure cooker. The Texas A&M grad posted an uneventful card that featured 16 pars, one birdie and one bogey but it was enough to win and collect the $99,000 first-place check.
"Starting the day I knew it was going to be a battle," he said. "I knew nobody was going to run away."
The victory moved Piller to from No. 16 to No. 2 on the money list where he trails former college roommate Bobby Gates, who finished seventh on Sunday.
"He came up to me after and congratulated me and said 'Good win, but you're still behind me,'" said Piller, who trails Gates by $28,497. "It gives me motivation. We're good friends and we hate losing to each other. It's just a testament to Texas A&M and the players they're producing."
Gary Christian carded an impressive 5-under 66 and vaulted into solo third at 10 under but was chasing the leaders the entire day and never seriously challenged for the lead.
Iles held a share of the lead at 12 under when he birdied the 11th hole, but stumbled with a bogey at No. 14 and then double-bogeyed the par-3 16th to dash his chances of winning. He shot a 73 to finish at 9 under and alone in fourth.
South Carolina rookie Mark Anderson (68) wound up fifth and Scott Gutschewski was sixth after a 7-under 64, which matched Piller's course record, set in Saturday's third round.
Summerhays was in control at the start of the day and when he birdied the fourth hole, and Piller bogeyed to fall to 11 under, Summerhays' lead was up to three.
"It was still early and there was a lot of golf left to play. I didn't press," said Piller. "I told myself to keep making pars and you'll be okay. I thought if I hung around one or two shots all day I'd be in good shape."
A pair of bogeys by Summerhays at Nos. 6 and 10 dropped him into a tie with Iles, one group in front. Piller made it a three-way tie with a birdie of his own on No. 11.
"It was a very quiet round for me," said Piller. "I loved it. You've got to pick your spots out here. You've got to be smart and know when you can be aggressive."
Summerhays regained the lead with a birdie at No. 15, but gave it back with a bogey on the next hole. The two arrived at the 488-yard 18th hole, the toughest hole on the course this day, tied for the lead.
"Everyone says that hole is hard," said Piller, who played it in 2 under over four days. "I thought it was pretty easy."
Fourth-Round Notes: Martin Piller won after missing the cut in his last two starts. He finished the week tied for 51st in fairways hit (32 of 56), tied for 20th in greens in regulation (52 of 72) and No. 1 in putting (108 total).
Australian Mark Hensby had a difficult morning, posting a 10-over par 81. His round included an 11 on the par-3 13th hole, which measured 160 yards. Hensby plunked three shots into the water that tightly guards the front of the green and, when his next tee shot missed the green, Hensby chipped on but then suffered a 3-putt for a total of 11. Prior to Sunday, the highest score this week on that hole was a triple-bogey 6, which occurred four times.
South Carolina rookie Mark Anderson rallied with a final-round 67 to finish at 7-under 277. Anderson was a first- and second-round co-leader but stumbled to a 74 on Saturday. His efforts Sunday pushed him back up the leaderboard and he wound up solo fifth, his third top-10 finish of the year. Anderson has made six of seven cuts and has moved up to No. 16 on the 2010 money list.
Scott Gutschewski shot bogey-free, 7-under 64 to wind up tied for sixth. The 64 is Gutschewski's best final-round score of his Nationwide Tour career (89 total starts). His previous low on the last day was a 65 at the 2006 Chitimacha Louisiana Open. His 64 is one off his career-best of 63, which he has done twice, most recently in the first round of the 2007 Fort Smith Classic.
Englishman Gary Christian's third-place finish this week was only the third top-3 and his 11th top-10 finish of his career (129 starts). Christian finished tied for ninth at last week's South Georgia Classic.



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