Nationwide Tour players have opportunity to grab first green jacket at Masters

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Bubba Watson

Bubba Watson

Nationwide Tour graduates are no strangers when it comes to winning on the PGA TOUR, but taking that next step and winning a major isn’t as given.

 

In the 22-year history of the Nationwide Tour, alumni have won majors 13 times. Leading the way for alumni is Ernie Els with three majors.

With the Masters getting underway on Thursday the chance is there for a former Nationwide Tour player to break through and win another major.

The Tour reached a milestone last month when Martin Laird won the Arnold Palmer Invitational. It was the 300th time a former Nationwide Tour player won on the PGA TOUR. (Look back at all 300 wins.)

The last Nationwide Tour graduate to win a major was Lucas Glover, who won the 2009 U.S. Open at soggy Bethpage. Earlier that year former Nationwide Tour player Stewart Cink won the British Open.

The last time a former Nationwide Tour player won the Masters was in 2007 when Zach Johnson‘s steady play led to his first major championship.

Here is a look at the top 10 former Nationwide Tour players who have a chance to break through and win their first major this year.

Major championships won by former Nationwide Tour players
Player Major
John Daly 1991 PGA Championship
Ernie Els 1994 U.S. Open
John Daly 1995 British Open
Tom Lehman 1996 British Open
Ernie Els 1997 U.S. Open
David Duval 2001 British Open
David Toms 2001 PGA Championship
Ernie Els 2002 British Open
Jim Furyk 2003 U.S. Open
Shaun Micheel 2003 PGA Championship
Zach Johnson 2007 Masters
Lucas Glover 2009 U.S. Open
Stewart Cink 2009 British Open

Nick Watney — It seems now that it’s just a formality before Watney, 29, wins his first major. He took down a strong field to win the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship to prove he is ready for that breakthrough. Here’s another stat that might be worthwhile — he finished seventh last year at the Masters throwing up a tidy 65 in the final round.

Bubba Watson — He’s one of the best feel players around and Augusta National is best suited for guys that can improvise shots. Watson’s got the length and is real close to moving into the upper echelon on TOUR. He has a win this season and is headed toward his best season on TOUR. He didn’t play in the Masters last year but made the cut in 2009 and finished 42nd.

Stuart Appleby — He hasn’t set the world on fire this season, but he’s capable of breaking through at some point to win a major. Like Watson, he wasn’t in the Masters last year but in 2009 tied for 30th. In 2007 he tied for seventh at Augusta for his best showing there.

Steve Stricker — Mr. Consistency has been Stricker’s calling card for the last several years. While he won’t wow many folks with his game, it’s more than good enough to win a major. With the success he’s had of late it seems the only thing missing from his resume is a major. Two years ago he quietly tied for sixth at Augusta National.

Matt Kuchar — It’s hard to believe it’s been 12 years since a barely-shaving Kuchar, who was an amateur at Georgia Tech, thrilled the galleries as he tied for 21st. This season he has five top 10s and in last year’s Masters tied for 24th. If his putting is on the mark, watch out.

Bill Haas — The former Wake Forest star has only one year of experience at the Masters, and that was last year when he tied for 26th. He had a solid start to the season but has tailed off some with two missed cuts heading into this week. His length off the tee bodes well for Augusta National and the experience of playing last year should help.

Jerry Kelly — With the 25-year anniversary of Jack Nicklaus winning the Masters at age 46, maybe a 44-year-old will win his first major. Kelly was fifth in 2007 at the Masters and has plenty of experience at Augusta National. He was third at the Honda Classic earlier this season.

Tim Clark — He always seems to be hanging around the leaderboard at majors, especially at the Masters. Clark has battled some injuries this season, so it’s hard to say if he’ll be ready this week. In nine Masters he’s finished inside the top 25 four times and was second in 2006.

Camilo Villegas — He’s had a disappointing 2011 and is just 144th on the FedExCup points list. His best showing is a tie for 33rd at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship, but sometimes a major can get a player going in the right direction. In 2009, he tied for 13th at the Masters. This will be his fifth Masters so he knows the course.

Jhonattan Vegas — The ‘odds’ on Vegas winning in his first Masters appearance are pretty slim because noone since Fuzzy Zoellar in 1979 has ever won the tournament in his first attempt. Vegas has taken the PGA TOUR by storm this season in his rookie year and won the Bob Hope Classic.

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Bubba Dickerson gets great start on Nationwide Tour

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Bubba Dickerson

Bubba Dickerson

Bubba Dickerson’s swing, not to mention his mind, is flowing a lot more freely these days.

Dickerson, who not that long ago was one of the top amateurs in the country, is 29 now and has gained experience and knowledge that has helped tremendously. So far in the early goings this season on the Nationwide Tour Dickerson has three quality finishes under his belt.

“It’s been a good start,” said Dickerson, who is fourth on the money list with just over $80,000 this season.

Dickerson, a former standout at the University of Florida, has improved each tournament — opening the season with a tie for 16th then tying for eighth before a third-place finish at the Chitimacha Louisiana Open last week. He wound up firing four straight rounds in the 60s in Louisiana, good enough to finish at 11 under for the tournament.

With two weeks off before the next Tour stop at the Fresh Express Classic at TPC Stonebrae, Dickerson is content with watching his two sons, ages 7 and 5, play baseball.

“It’s kind of cool because my 7-year-old is getting competitive and knows when his team wins or loses,” Dickerson said. “So it’s been fun to be home for awhile before we hit the road again.”

Another bonus for Dickerson this season is a clearer mind thanks to an eight-year lawsuit that involved his first agent. The lawsuit finally went to trial last year and now that it’s over Dickerson says it’s one reason he’s playing well in 2011.

“I don’t want to say that’s the sole reason why I haven’t played as well but that was definitely a factor,” Dickerson said. What made the lawsuit such a burden was how long the process took and the uncertainly of it.

“I also couldn’t talk about it because it was an on-going thing so now that I can talk about it feels like I’ve had a weight lifted off me,” Dickerson said. “I knew I was always in the right but anytime you are involved in something like that it puts undue stress on you.”

Dickerson, who got his nickname because his younger brother had a hard time pronouncing “brother”, hit the golf world by storm in 2001 when he won both the Western Amateur and the U.S. Amateur in the same summer. He turned professional during his junior year at Florida.

Dickerson spent 2006 and ’07 on the PGA TOUR, but lost his card and has spent the last three years on the Nationwide Tour. In 2009 he won his only Nationwide Tour event, the Chitimacha Louisiana Open, but wasn’t consistent enough late in the season and wound up 36th on the money list.

Last season, though, was a “lost year,” according to Dickerson, as he made just 11 cuts in 28 tournaments and finished a dismal 114th on the Nationwide Tour money list.

“I just went back and I did a lot of searching last year,” Dickerson said. “I was working with a bunch of different people with my swing and I decided that I just needed to play golf and not think about it so much.”

Dickerson, who admits to always being a feel player, had fallen into the same trap a lot of pro golfers do. They tend to tinker with the swing looking for an edge or more distance.

“I kind of thought back to college and I’d hit a cut shot and somebody would ask me ‘How did you do that?’” he recalled about this days at Florida. “And I wouldn’t know because I just tended to do that naturally so it was all about feel back then.”

Dickerson, who has combined to make $1.4 million with 132 starts on the Nationwide Tour and 64 more on the PGA TOUR, says even though he will turn 30 in May he doesn’t feel like too much of a veteran on the Nationwide Tour.

“My wife, Mindy, and I joke that we are the youngest old people in the world,” Dickerson said.

As for his outlook on the rest of the season Dickerson plans on changing his approach a little bit.

“I used to play in just about every tournament and that really didn’t help me too much,” Dickerson said. “So we’ll see how the season goes and if I take breaks or whatever. But I don’t think we play three weeks in a row until June so I have some time to decide how I’ll approach it.”

Dickerson, who lives just north of Jacksonville, Fla., admits he’s grown up a lot thanks to nine years of marriage and two kids. But he also realizes that a fast start this season has him in a great frame of mind.

“The main thing is staying patient and not to read too much into everything,” he said. “I just want to keep it simple.”

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Brett Wetterich wins the Chitimacha Louisiana Open

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Brett Wetterich wins the Chitimacha Louisiana Open

Brett Wetterich wins the Chitimacha Louisiana Open

Brett Wetterich fired a 2-under-par 69 Sunday to win the Chitimacha Louisiana Open for the second time in his Nationwide Tour career. Wetterich, who won here in 2003, finished at 13-under 271, one stroke better than University of Florida senior Andres Echavarria (67) and two in front of former Florida Gator and 2009 champion Bubba Dickerson (69).

John Kimbell posted the round of the week with a 10-under 61 and settled in the clubhouse at 10-under 274 more than 3 ½ hours in front of the final group. Kimbell eventually settled for a fourth-place tie with Rich Barcelo (70) and Carl Paulson (67), who registered his first top-10 finish of any kind since 2002.

Wetterich recovered from consecutive bogeys midway through the final nine holes at Le Triomphe Country Club and regained the lead with a tap-in birdie putt at the 15thhole. He steadied himself down the stretch with three consecutive pars to become the first two-time winner in the tournament’s 20-year history. He also becomes the ninth player in Tour history to win the same event twice.

“I love this place. This course just fits me perfectly,” he said. “This is a great feeling. I can’t be any happier. I held in there the last two days but it certainly wasn’t easy.”

Wetterich, one of the bigger hitters on Tour, did most of his damage on the four par-5s this week.

“The key to this golf course is playing those holes well,” he said after chalking up 14 birdies and a pair of pars. “I played them really well. You can miss a couple fairways and get away with it sometimes. I hit a lot of good, long drives out there.”

Wetterich led by three after 36 holes and started the final round with a two-stroke advantage over a host of challengers. The 2006 EDS Byron Nelson Championship winner was three-under for the day after a birdie at No. 12 and led by three but consecutive bogeys and a birdie by Echavarria, two groups in front, knotted things at 12-under.

“I hit the clubs I wanted to on those holes, I just wound up in some bad spots,” said the winner. “I had no idea where he was on the board.”

Wetterich, a USA Ryder Cup team member in 2006, handled the pressure with ease. He stuffed a sand wedge to within a foot at the 445-yard, 15th and regained the lead.

“I used to be terrible at getting rid of the bad shots,” he said. “I’m getting better at it.”

Echavarria, the Gators’ 23-year old captain, opened with an eagle on the first hole and was able to put consistent pressure on the leader during the windy final round. He missed birdie putts of 10 and 12 feet on his final two holes and then had to wait and see if Wetterich would falter.

“It was fun to have a chance to win a Nationwide Tour event, especially with a player (Wetterich) that I grew up watching,” said Echavarria, who got permission from his coach to skip the team event and play on his own. “It’s amazing. I had a pretty good shot and missed a couple of short putts but it’s golf, it happens. I’m really pleased with my result.”

Everybody seemed pleased for various reasons.

• Wetterich returned to the winner’s circle for the first time in several years and collected $90,000 in the process;

• Echavarria proved himself on a much larger stage as he prepares for the upcoming Southeastern Conference and NCAA Championships;

• Dickerson birdied the final two holes to finish solo third and collect Echavarria’s second-place money, which should help in the season-long money race;

• Kimbell, a Monday qualifier, posted a career-low round and may have gained some much-needed, early season momentum;

• Paulson, who missed the better part of five years on Tour with back problems, not only made his first cut since 2005 but also collected his first top-10 finish since a T5 at the 2002 Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic.

• The Nationwide Tour will move to northern California in two weeks for the Fresh Express Classic at TPC Stonebrae in Hayward April 11-17.

With his win today — Brett Wetterich

• Earns his third Nationwide Tour title in his 61st career start
2011 Chitimacha Louisiana Open
2004 Envirocare Utah Championship
2003 Chitimacha Louisiana Open

• Wins at the age of 37 years, 7 months 18 days

• Wins on the Nationwide Tour for the first time since the 2004 Envirocare Utah Classic — a span of 6 years, 6 months and 28 days.

• Wins for the first time since the 2006 EDS Byron Nelson Championship on the PGA TOUR.

• Has made 112 starts on the PGA TOUR and earned $6,517,227 since his last win on the PGA TOUR.

• Becomes the ninth player in Nationwide Tour history to win the same event twice:
Brett Wetterich 2003, 2011 Chitimacha Louisiana Open
Vance Veazey 2005, 2009 Panama Digicel Championship
Brad Elder 1999, 2007 Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open
Hunter Haas 2004, 2006 Knoxville Open
Shane Bertsch 2000, 2005 BMW Charity Pro-Am
Peter O’Malley 2002, 2005 ING New Zealand PGA Championship
Pat Bates 1999, 2001 Dakota Dunes Open
Ryan Howison 1997, 1999 Lakeland Classic
Chris Smith 1995, 1997 Omaha Classic

• Is now 3-for-3 when holding/sharing the third-round lead on the Nationwide Tour
2003 Chitimacha Louisiana Open led by 2 shot 70 won by 3
2004 Envirocare Utah Open led by 2 shot 71 won by 1
2011 Chitimacha Louisiana Open led by 2 shot 69 won by 1

• Becomes the sixth of the past nine 54-hole leaders who have gone on to win the tournament — Brett Wetterich, 2003; Ryan Hietala, 2005; Skip Kendall, 2007; Gavin Coles, 2008; Bubba Dickerson, 2009; Brett Wetterich, 2011.

• Collects a first-place check for $90,000

Fourth-Round Notes

• Sunday’s weather: Partly cloudy. High of 82.. Winds SW-SE 6-12 mph.

Jeff Klauk played as a single this morning and posted a 1-under 70. He played in 2:58, finishing at 10:23 a.m.

• University of Florida senior Andres Echavarria finished second this week but because he is an amateur, he collects no money. Bubba Dickerson, a former Gator, finished third but collected second-place money.

• Carl Paulson birdied three of his final four holes today for a 4-under 67 and a 10-under 274 total. Paulson finished T4, his first top-10 finish since a T5 at the 2002 Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic and his best since he was T4 at THE PLAYERS Championship in 2002.

• John Kimbell’s 10-under 61 was one shy of the course record. Brenden Pappas carded an 11-under 60 in the first round in 2007.

• John Kimbell’s 61 today was a career-best for him on the Nationwide Tour. He previously had posted a score of 64 six different times, the most recent coming in the third round of the 2010 Albertsons Boise Open.

• John Kimbell had an eagle and nine birdies today en route his 10-under 61. Kimbell had recorded only eight birdies over his first 54 holes (along with eight bogeys).

• John Kimbell’s 61 today was the best final-round score in tournament history. The previous best was a 62 by Stan Utley in 1995.

• With Andres Echavarria’s second-place finish today, Daniel Summerhays remains as the only amateur ever to win a Nationwide Tour event. Summerhays won the 2007 Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational in Columbus, Ohio, while still a student at Brigham Young University. Here are the best finishes by amateur since 1990:

1 Daniel Summerhays 2007 Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational
P2 Jamie Lovemark 2007 Rochester (MN) Area Charities Showdown at Somerby
P2 Rickie Fowler 2008 Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational
2 Andres Echavarria 2011 Chitimacha Louisiana Open
T2 Charles Howell III 2000 Greensboro Open
3 Sergio Garcia 1998 Greensboro Open
5 Michael Combs 1991 Tri-Cities Open

• The 485-yard, 14thhole was unusually generous this week, giving up a total of 30 birdies. The hole played as the second-toughest par-4 on the Nationwide Tour last year and allowed only 16 birdies for the week. There were 15 birdies registered there on Thursday alone. The hole was switched from a par-5 to a par-4 in 2006 and the most birdies in any single week the previous five years was 28 in 2007.

Ryan Armour closed out both the front nine and the back nine with three consecutive birdies today. Armour shot a 7-under 64 and finished T13.

• Leading money-winner Brenden Pappas posted a 7-under 64 today to wind up at 5-under 279 and T25.

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Rich Barcelo shoots 6-under 65 and grabbed first round lead at Chitimacha Louisiana Open

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Rich Barcelo

Rich Barcelo

Rich Barcelo fired a 6-under 65 Thursday morning and grabbed the first-round lead at the Chitimacha Louisiana Open, the first domestic stop on the 2011 Nationwide Tour schedule. Barcelo closed with a 35-foot birdie putt on his final hole to separate himself by one stroke from a trio of others.

Scott Gardiner, Aaron Watkins and Carl Paulson all posted 5-under 66s at the Le Triomphe Country Club course and share second place.

Bob Heintz, Matthew Giles, Michael Thompson, Fran Quinn and 2003 champion Brett Wetterich are knotted at 67, two strokes back.

Barcelo was one-over through his first seven holes on the back nine, but then turned things while battling a wind that changed the complexion of the course.

“It was playing 180 degrees different today than it did Tuesday in the practice round,” said Barcelo, who is making his eighth start in this event dating back to 1999. “I’ve been here a lot and I’ve seen all the wind conditions.”

Thursday’s wind came out of NNE and turned some difficult holes on the back nine from lions to lambs. The 485-yard, 14th usually plays into a headwind and was the second-toughest par-4 on Tour last year, yielding only 16 total birdies over four days. The field chalked up a record 15 birdies there today.

“I hit 3-wood into the green for my second shot there the other day,” said Barcelo. “Today, it was a 9-iron.”

Barcelo’s lead was threatened during much of the afternoon by Paulson, a 40-year-old veteran who has played very little competitive golf over the past five and half years thanks to a series of back problems.

Paulson opened his round with back-to-back birdies before he aced the 199-yard, 3rd hole with a perfect 5-iron. It was his first hole-in-one since the second round of the 1999 Cleveland Open.

Paulson got to 7-under through 15 before suffering two bogeys on his final three holes.

“I think mentally I got a little tired but that will sharpen up,” he said.

So will the field as players begin to get their sea legs under them to begin the year. The Tour opened with tournaments in Panama and Colombia, both of which were plagued by weather. The latter, the Pacific Rubiales Bogota Open, was hampered by daily thunderstorms that eventually forced the tournament to be cut to 36 holes.

“It’s hard to get any momentum going because you have to go home for a couple of weeks,” said Watkins, who posted a second-round 65 to match the course record in South America and was within striking distance when officials were forced to cancel the third round. “It’s tough because when I go home I usually sit on the couch for four or five days. I putted good the last round in Colombia, which gave me a little momentum coming into this week.”

First-Round Notes

• Thursday’s weather: Mostly sunny skies, highs in the low 80s with winds ENE 7-15 mph.

• Leading money winner Brenden Pappas had five birdies and a triple-bogey today while shooting a 2-under 70. Pappas captured the weather-plagued Pacific Rubiales Bogota Open, which was shortened to 36 holes, two weeks ago.

• Veteran Mike Heined of nearby Lake Charles, LA, is making his 16th start in this event, which is celebrating its’ 20th annual visit to LeTriomphe CC. Heinen posted a 1-under 70 in today’s opener. Heinen, who teed it up in the tournament’s inaugural event in 1992, has made the cut 13 times in his previous 15 starts with his best finish a runner-up in 2002.

Paul Claxton (5-over 76) is also no newcomer to Lafayette. Claxton is making his 15th career start here this week. The Georgia native won the tournament in 2001 and was also runner-up in 2007. He has made the cut in eight of his previous 14 starts.

• Jake Younan-Wise had a pair of eagles on the front nine today. He eagled the par-5, 1st hole and the par-5, 5ith hole. Those were the only sub-par holes for the former Texas Tech Red Raider, who wound up shooting a 4-over 75.

• Carl Paulson recorded an ace today at the 199-yard, 3rd hole. Paulson used a 5-iron for his hole-in –one, the 15th in tournament history.

• Carl Paulson needed only eight total strokes for his first three holes, which covered 1,140 yards. Paulson started his day birdie-birdie-eagle and was 4-under through three holes.

• The 485-yard, 14thhole was the second-toughest par-4 on the Nationwide Tour last year. The hole, which normally plays into the wind, yielded only 16 birdies over four days and had a scoring average of 4.430. With the wind at the players’ backs today, the hole gave up 15 birdies and played to a scoring average of 4.273. Friday’s forecast is for the winds to shift SSE at 10-20 mph, with gusts to 25 mph.

• The 14th hole was changed in 2006 from a 540-yard, par-5 to a 485-yard, par-4. In the past five years, there have been an average of 5.4 birdies on that hole per round. Today, there was an all-time, single-round high of 15 birdies registered. This was only the third time in 21 total rounds, since it was changed to a par-4, that double-digit birdies were recorded. There were 11 in the opening round in 2007 and 10 in the opening round in 2009.

• The 555-yard first hole, playing straight down wind today, was the easiest hole on the course. The hole yielded 11 eagles and 79 birdies on the day compared to 47 and 6 bogeys. The hole played to a scoring average of 4.336.

Martin Flores uncorked the day’s longest drive, a 377-yard shot at the 485-yard, 14th hole. Flores ranked No. 11 on the PGA TOUR in Average Driving Distance (300.7 yards) and his longest drive of the year was a 365-yard shot at the Reno-Tahoe Open.

• Scott Gardiner (66) celebrated his 35th birthday on Tuesday.

Jeff Brehaut withdrew prior to the start of the round and was replaced in the field by Frank Lickliter II.

Todd Bailey withdrew during the first round due to a back injury.

• Rich Barcelo (65) had 14 one-putt greens today only 20 official putts for his round. Fran Quinn (67) had 21 total putts. On the other hand, John Mallinger (75) had 20 putts on the front nine and 37 total. He finished at 4-over par despite hitting 15 greens in regulation.

Aron Price (68) was a perfect 13 of 13 in fairways hit.

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Dramatic changes to Chitimacha Louisiana Open debut near Lafayette

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Cliff Kresge

Cliff Kresge

The Nationwide Tour will make its domestic debut this week with the Chitimacha Louisiana Open near Lafayette, La.

The season opened in late February with the Panama CLARO Championship in Panama City where Matthew Goggin was the winner. The tour then moved to Bogota, Colombia for the Pacific Rubiales Bogota Open, where Brenden Pappas won the rain-shortened event.

The Nationwide Tour had two weeks off after the 36-hole Bogota Open.

Fabian Gomez was the winner last season winning by a commanding six shots.

Here are the power rankings for this week’s event:

Power Rankings: Chitimacha Louisiana Open
Rank Player Comment
Brenden
PAPPAS
With a victory and a tie for 38th, Pappas leads the tour money list with a little more than $110,000. Last time out, he shot 67-66 in the rain-shortened tournament but that was good enough to win. He wouldn’t mind proving it wasnt a fluke.
Darron
STILES
He finds himself in the Power Rankings thanks to his consistency in the first two tournaments of the season. He has a tie for second and a tie for eighth and is inside the top 5 on the money list. In his six rounds this season, he has shot par or better in every round.
Mathew
GOGGIN
He’s had the best of both worlds in his two events so far this season, with a victory and a missed cut. At least there’s been two weeks between the missed cut, so that should help his frame of mind.
James
HAHN
Going strictly by last season’s tournament in Louisiana, where he tied for fifth, he could make a move this week. So far this season, he has finished 58th and tied for 40th. Too talented to ignore on this list.
Cliff
KRESGE
Has quietly tied for sixth and tied for 13th in his first two tournaments this year on the Nationwide Tour. In his six rounds this season, he is 11 under and is off to a good start in his bid to regain his PGA TOUR card.

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Giving new meaning to “The New Breed” has arrived on the PGA Tour

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Proving Ground

Proving Ground

The Nationwide Tour is close to reaching a magic number, a number that defines the impact the Tour has had on the PGA TOUR.

In its 22nd season the Nationwide Tour has had nearly 300 of its alumni win on the PGA TOUR. When Nick Watney won Sunday’s World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship it was the 298th time a former Nationwide Tour player had won on the PGA TOUR.

In 2010 there were a total of 28 PGA TOUR wins by former Nationwide Tour players — the most ever in one season. And so far this season there have already been ten.

One former Nationwide Tour player who has made a big impression on the PGA TOUR is Lucas Glover, who won the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage. Glover, a former Clemson star, played in 39 career Nationwide Tour tournaments with one win and eight top 10 showings in 2002 and 2003.

“The competition on the Nationwide Tour is great preparation for the PGA TOUR,” he said late last season. “Outside of the number of fans and media coverage, it gives you the chance to experience everything in professional golf.”

While some players didn’t spend a lot of time on the Nationwide Tour it most certainly helped in their development.

Let’s take a look at some of the best the Nationwide Tour has produced from the veterans to the rookies.

Top 5 All-Time Alumni
Ernie Els The Big Easy has 18 career PGA TOUR wins, which includes two U.S. Open titles and a British Open title, and he was elected to the Hall of Fame the first year his name was on the ballot.
Jim Furyk He didn’t hit the PGA TOUR with as much force as Els, but once he got going he became one of the most consistent players of this generation. Won the 2003 U.S. Open and has 16 PGA TOUR wins.
Stewart Cink Before he was a Twitter star and a British Open champion, he honed his game on the Nationwide Tour. Another consistent player on the TOUR who could likely have his best years ahead of him.
David Duval A former world No. 1 and 13-time PGA TOUR winner who won the 2001 British Open. He fell off the map for awhile but is fighting his way back and has a chance to be relevant again.
David Toms He won the 2001 PGA Championship and has 12 PGA TOUR victories. Another one of those consistent players who despite some recent injuries is still a force.
Note: They have won nearly $169 million combined in career earnings on the PGA TOUR.
The Next Wave of Stars
Bill Haas Had a break out season on the PGA TOUR last year with two big wins and is finding his groove as he enters his late 20s.
Nick Watney A winner at the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship in 2011 and his stock continues to rise. Perhaps a major championship will be his next accomplishment.
Aaron Baddeley There’s still time for him to become more of a consistent force and he’s still young enough — he turned 30 on March 17.
Jhonattan Vegas A rookie on the PGA TOUR this season. He won the Bob Hope Classic and is poised for a monster season.
Camilo Villegas Three-time winner on the PGA TOUR. Off to a rough start this season. He’s too talented to stay down for long. Was a late bloomer in college.
Note: They have combined for 12 PGA TOUR victories.
The Best Veteran Players
Tom Lehman He may have never made it on the PGA TOUR without his success on the Nationwide Tour. Now he’s a consistent performer on the Champions Tour.
Steve Stricker At age 44 he’s ranked 10th in the Official World Golf Ranking with nine PGA TOUR wins.
Matt Kuchar The former Georgia Tech star is the highest-ranked Nationwide Tour alumni at No. 9 in the latest Official World Golf Ranking.
Chad Campbell He is only 36 and has four wins on the PGA TOUR, with his last one coming in 2007.
Brian Gay He has three PGA TOUR wins and has come on late in recent years. He will turn 40 in December.
Note: Only Lehman has won a major of these five but that could change this season.
Don’t Forget About Me
John Daly He won two majors in his prime and is fighting to get full status on the PGA TOUR. Still occasionally plays on the Nationwide Tour.
Lucas Glover He’s young enough to win another major after claiming the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage.
Zach Johnson The winner of the 2007 Masters isn’t done yet. He picked up his seventh PGA TOUR win at the Crowne Plaza Invitational last year.
Shaun Micheel He won the 2003 PGA Championship but has struggled with health issues the last few years.
Jerry Kelly At age 45 he’s off to a great start this season and is ranked 26th on the FedEx Cup points list.
Note: Bubba Watson, Mark Wilson and Johnson Wagner could have also made this list.
Most Likely to Win First Major
Matt Kuchar He’s too good to not win a major and the PGA Championship is at the Atlanta Athletic Club in August.
Stuart Appleby Has nine PGA TOUR wins and his game would probably work best at a U.S. Open.
Steve Stricker This season might be his best shot and it might be at the Masters.
Bubba Watson He has matured enough to where he can stay in contention in the majors.
Bill Haas His father, Jay, never won a major, but Bill is poised to take that next leap in his career.
Note: There have been 13 majors won by former Nationwide Tour players with Ernie Els leading the way with three.
Still Plenty of Time
Jamie Lovemark He was the youngest leading money winner last season in Nationwide Tour history in 2010, and will one day make a big impact on the PGA TOUR.
Bobby Gates At age 25 he’s a rookie on the PGA TOUR and has the all-around game to do very well.
Kevin Chappell Another rookie on the PGA TOUR who has made four cuts so far in seven starts.
Chris Kirk Former University of Georgia star is 54th in the FedExCup points race in his rookie season.
Colt Knost Rallied late last season on the Nationwide Tour to earn his PGA TOUR card again. He’s just 25 with a lot of good years in front of him.
Note: Of the 25 players from the Nationwide Tour who earned their PGA TOUR cards from last season’s money list 15 of those players are in their 20s.

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Anderson finally getting his groove going in the Nationwide Tour

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Mark Anderson

Mark Anderson

Like most Nationwide Tour pros, Mark Anderson worries about everything from his swing plane to which hotel he is going to stay in during a tournament week.

And there’s also something that’s been pressing on his mind these days, but it has nothing to do with golf. Anderson, 25, is in his second season on the Nationwide Tour and is a die-hard Carolina Panthers’ fan.

One of his concerns is who will the Panthers take with the top overall pick in next month’s draft.

“I don’t know what they are going to do,” Anderson said. “I was really hoping that Andrew Luck of Stanford was going to come out for the draft, but that didn’t happen. I don’t think (returning starter) Jimmy Clausen is the answer.”

Whatever the Panthers do is out of Anderson’s control, but he expects to be more in control this season on the Nationwide Tour.

He went through his rookie season in 2010 like a bull in a china shop, making plenty of noise in finishing No. 60th on the money list to secure his card for this season.

There were plenty of good tournaments (three top-10s in 2010) but there were plenty of bad moments as well, such as missing four of five cuts in August and September.

So far this season, Anderson feels like he’s in control, despite his short game struggles that he called “just a little rusty.”

The Nationwide Tour will have two weeks off before making its domestic debut March 24-27 at the Chitimacha Louisiana Open.

Anderson, a 2008 graduate of the University of South Carolina who lives in Beaufort, S.C., has had a decent start to this season. He opened the year tying for 13th at the Panama CLARO Championship then slogged his way to a tie for 49th in the two-round Pacific Rubiales Bogota Open this past weekend.

It was a brutal test of the players and tournament officials because of heavy rain that forced the tournament to be reduced to 36 holes that was eventually won by Brenden Pappas.

“It was just unfortunate that we had some rain every day and the course was already so wet before we got there,” Anderson said.

With two weeks to recharge his batteries Anderson said he learned a few things that he will work on.

“I will kind of re-access what I did well in those two weeks and I feel like I have some good feedback of what areas of my game I need to work on,” Anderson said.

Just knowing what he needs to address is different from where Anderson was a year ago. When he first hit the Nationwide Tour he admits he was all over the place in his practice habits and even how much to practice from week to week.

There came a time at the end of the season when he was so wore down from grinding he made a rather bold decision. After playing a full season and finishing 60th on the money list he had earned exempt status to the second stage of PGA TOUR Qualifying School, but he elected to not go through that stage that would have possible led to the final stage.

He took a long-term view of his career and because he was spent he knew he couldn’t give it 100 percent at second-stage qualifying.

“I guess it was kind of out of the ordinary to not go to that second stage,” Anderson said. “But for me it was a couple of things and the biggest thing was I was mentally burnt out and I needed to take a break. I just knew I couldn’t commit totally to that because of how I had worked so hard to grind to get inside the top 60 to earn my Nationwide Tour card for this season.”

Anderson said he learned so much from last year’s rookie season on the tour that he knew that getting another chance this season would be his best shot at getting to the PGA TOUR.

“I just think the best way to get to the PGA TOUR is through the Nationwide Tour,” Anderson said. “The courses and the competition are just outstanding and it was in my best interest to go home, rest up, and come out ready to go this season.”

Anderson plans on making his second season on the Nationwide Tour even better than his first. One of his goals is to be in contention more often on Sunday, something he said he never really did in 2010.

He also will continue to adhere to his superstition of playing in clean and shiny golf shoes.

More importantly, he says the off-season refreshed him mentally and physically.

“I feel like my second year out here I’ll have more confidence and I understand the courses better and that’s a huge advantage,” he said. “I can prepare better and I know what it takes to be a professional and that all has to do with how the Nationwide Tour gives us those chances to learn.”

 

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Canadian still trying to make cut after five events

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Matt McQuillan

Matt McQuillan

Kingston golfer Matt McQuillan fell just short of making the cut at the PGA Tour’s Puerto Rico Open on Friday.

The tour rookie shot two-over-par 74 in the second round, leaving McQuillan at one-over for 36 holes. The cut line was one under.

McQuillan now has missed the cut in his past five tournaments after qualifying for the final two rounds in his PGA Tour debut — the Sony Open in Hawaii.

McQuillan is not in the field next week at the Transitions Championship in Palm Harbor, Fla.

Americans Chris Tidland, Troy Matteson and James Driscoll lead the Puerto Rico Open at 10 under. Calgary’s Stephen Ames is one stroke back, while David Hearn of Brantford is four shots off the pace.

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Thompson adds new equipment and instructor on way to winning on the Nationwide tour

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Kyle Thompson

Kyle Thompson

Kyle Thompson doesn’t have to be reminded how fast time goes by.

It wasn’t that long ago when he was a fresh-faced pro in his early 20s hoping to make waves on the Nationwide Tour. Now he’s 31 and in his eighth year on Tour, he sees things through a different lens.

“I used to kind of hang out more and maybe not take care of myself as well I should have,” said Thompson, a 2001 graduate of South Carolina. “But I’ve got a family now so I can’t hang with the guys as much.”

Thompson and his wife, Emmi, have a daughter, Sophie, who will be 2 soon and another baby on the way that’s due in August. They live in Greenville, S.C. and whenever possible the entire family travels together to tournaments.

“I’ve really tried to take it more seriously and it’s just maturity,” said Thompson, a two-time winner on the Nationwide Tour in 2007 when he had his best season. “I really hit the weights hard in the off-season trying to get stronger because if there’s a trait out here for the guys that move on to the PGA TOUR it’s that they all bomb it.”

Thompson was hoping to get off to a good start last week at the Panama CLARO Championship. He says he accomplished that goal with a tie for 10th with rounds of 68-65-71-70 to finish at 6 under for the tournament.

The Nationwide Tour will move to the Pacific Rubiales Bogota Open Presented by Samsung this week.

Thompson made several off-season changes from equipment to clothes to and hooked up with Dale Lynch, an instructor who works at The Cliffs in South Carolina. Lynch works with several players including Geoff Ogilvy, Aaron Baddeley and Mathew Goggin, who wound up winning the Panama CLARO Championship on Sunday.

The biggest thing that Lynch has helped Thompson with is his set up, which tends to waver at times.

“He’s helped me with some little things like with my set up and with my putting,” Thompson said. “I just wanted to hit the re-set button for this year and that’s kind of what I did and I’m looking for a fresh start.”

Thompson was a regular on the Nationwide Tour from 2003 until 2007, when he won twice in ’07 and did finished high enough on the money list to earn his PGA TOUR card for 2008. He’s won more than $1 million on the Nationwide Tour, which he says is both good and bad. He ranks 15th on the career money list of the 22-year-old Nationwide Tour.

“It’s nothing to be ashamed about,” he said about earning just a little more than $1 million in 186 career tournaments (100 cuts made).

When he played on the PGA TOUR in 2008 he made 26 starts but made just eight cuts. He had one top 25 finish with a tie for 15th at the Puerto Rico Open. He finished a distant 211th on the PGA TOUR money list with just over $150,000.

Because Thompson had a taste of the PGA TOUR he is hoping to get back there, and knows that every top-10 he can get this season will help him achieve that goal.

Last season was a comeback season for Thompson as he finished 49th on the Nationwide Tour money list. In 2009 he suffered what he called the “worst year of his life” on the course where he plummeted to 148th on the money list.

He has trouble explaining what went wrong in 2009, and while he fell short of his goal in 2010 of making the PGA TOUR, again he was thrilled with how he rebounded.

“That’s why I really feel good about this year,” Thompson said. “This is the best I’ve ever felt and with the changes I’ve made I’m really looking forward to seeing how everything goes.”

With his first top 10 already in the books, Thompson says that bodes well for how the rest of his season might look like.

As a wily veteran of the Nationwide Tour he can draw on his experience each week.

“It’s definitely an advantage knowing the courses even though this first week the conditions were different from years past,” Thompson said. “It’s usually pretty firm but they had a lot of rain and the course played soft so that was an adjustment.”

While some players try not to think too much about the PGA TOUR, Thompson is a little different.

“I think about every day because if you want it bad enough you have to keep working hard,” he said.

Thompson joked that one perk of the PGA TOUR is the daycare that’s provided at most tournament stops.

“I guess that’s another reason to try and get back there,” Thompson said laughing.

He’s hoping for another shot at the TOUR, but it’s about more than his growing family.

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Mathew Goggins flys under radar to win Panama CLARO Championship and Nationwide Tour opener

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Mathew Goggin wins in Panama

Mathew Goggin wins in Panama

Mathew Goggin flew under the radar all week at the Panama CLARO Championship and when the dust settled on the Nationwide Tour’s season opener, the 36-year old Australian emerged the winner. Goggin, who started the final round four off the pace, needed only a 2-under 68 for a two-stroke victory and his first title in more than 11 ½ years.

Goggin, one of only two players to better par each day at the Panama Golf Club, finished at 11-under 269, two shots in front of Darron Stiles (66) and fellow Aussie Alistair Presnell (73).

South Carolina’s Tommy Biershenk birdied the final hole for a 68 to wind up three back along with third-round leader Erik Compton, who failed to make a birdie in the final round and posted a 5-over 75.

Googin spent the past five years, and nine of the last 11 on the PGA TOUR and earned his first victory since he won twice during the 1999 Nationwide Tour season — the third-longest span between wins in Tour history at 11 years, 6 months and 19 days.

“It’s been a long time,” he quipped. “I’ve had some opportunities over the years but it’s tough to win. It’s tough to win anywhere.”

Goggin’s win was a testament to steady play and patience as opposed to great ball-striking and a bundle of birdies.

“You don’t have to shoot the best score every day, you just have to have the best one at the end,” he said after picking up a check for $99,000. “I accumulated the best score this week. Today was a day where it was more a question of momentum to lose. Par was a good score, it wasn’t one to go on a birdie spree.”

The Tour’s eighth time in Central America proved to be the toughest as temperatures reached into the 90s each day, complicated by afternoon storms that produced proximity lighting which forced officials to delay play several times. None of the first three rounds were completed on schedule.

The majority of the field (40 of 64) needed to finish the third round Sunday morning. Compton, who shared the lead after both the first and second rounds, rolled in a short birdie putt at the closing hole to reach 13-under and take a one-stroke lead over Presnell heading into the final 18.

With the greens firming up quickly and pins tucked tight, none of the leaders were able to muster much momentum. The direction of the day was reverse, not forward.

Goggin joined the leaders in the final threesome, the first time he’s been in that spot since playing with Tom Watson in the final pairing at the 2009 British Open.

Goggin three-putted the 9th hole to fall three back of Compton at the turn but dug in and waited.

Goggin was error-free on the final nine with seven pars and birdies at Nos. 14 and 16. The latter gave him sole possession of the lead for the first time.

“I was fortunate to make birdies late and they made a couple of mistakes,” said Goggin. “I was just trying to play solid because there are plenty of opportunities to make bogey on this course.”

Compton and Presnell traded the lead at 12-under at No. 14, when Compton bogeyed and Presnell birdied.

Presnell’s lead disappeared with three consecutive bogeys on his next three holes. Compton added another bogey and was one back when they reached the 465-yard, 18th.

“I was trying to win the golf tournament on 18. I tried to hit a hard wedge and get it close,” said Compton, who saw his shot spin back off the front, which appeared to eliminate him from contention.

Goggin, who smashed his drive dead-center, obliged the favor by dumping his second into a greenside bunker.

“I hit a horrendous shot there,” he admitted. “I was in between clubs and I went with a sand iron. I mis-hit it.”

Compton’s pitch came up short again and he would eventually settle for a double-bogey to fall into a tie for fourth. Goggin blasted to four feet and canned his par putt, giving him an early boost in his efforts to return to the PGA TOUR next year.

“You have to try to convince yourself that wherever you are, this is where you want to be,” he said. “This is where you’re playing so you better make the most of it.”

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