Brendan Steele won the Nationwide Tour Championship, beating Colt Knost on the fourth hole of a playoff Sunday. But both players left feeling like champions as they finished among the top 25 money winners to earn PGA Tour cards.
Steele began the season-ending event 30th and Knost, the 2007 U.S. Amateur champion, was 36th. Steele knocked in an 8-foot birdie on the fourth extra hole, ending a day filled with drama, nerves and regrets.
2010 NATIONWIDE TOUR GRADUATES
1. Jamie Lovemark
2. Chris Kirk
3. Hunter Haas
4. Tommy Gainey
5. Daniel Summerhays
6. Brendan Steele
7. Jhonattan Vegas
8. Martin Piller
9. Kevin Chappell
10. Tag Ridings
11. Kevin Kisner
12. Fabian Gomez
13. David Mathis
14. Keegan Bradley
15. Colt Knost
16. Bobby Gates
17. Steven Bowditch
18. D.J. Brigman
19. Jim Herman
20. Scott Gutschewski
21. David Hearn
22. Joe Affrunti
23. Peter Tomasulo
24. Michael Putnam
25. Justin Hicks
Steele finished sixth on the final money list and Knost 15th, both among the 14 first-timers out on tour next season.
Steele held a five-shot lead after three rounds at the Daniel Island Club's Ralston Creek course.
"I didn't sleep very well," he said. "Couple of hours here and there. It's almost a little bit harder when you've got that big lead because you can't help but try and protect it a little bit."
Jamie Lovemark, a 22-year-old tour rookie, maintained his No. 1 position on the money list to earn a full PGA Tour exemption and entry into the Players Championship.
Lovemark finished with $452,951 and expects to carry that success to the bigger stage.
"I'll be looking forward to the Sony" Open, the 2011 season's first event, Lovemark said. "I want to win out there next year so I don't expect much less of myself."
Justin Hicks edged Scott Gardiner by $2,010 for the 25th and final PGA Tour spot.
Hicks entered the last round tied for 16th and seemingly secure for a PGA Tour card. However, he bogeyed five of his last eight holes for a closing 76, then waited nearly two hours to see if he'd get shuffled out.
"There's nothing fun about that round. I wouldn't wish that round on my worst enemy," Hicks said.
For every player that got in, someone was knocked out.
James Hahn, a 28-year-old tour rookie, lost a PGA Tour chance a year ago when needing just a par, he took double bogey when he four-putted the 108th and last hole at Q-School to miss by a stroke. Hahn appeared to put that behind him, starting the final round tied for second and projected to finish 15th in the money.
Instead, he shot a 77 to fall to 29th overall. Hahn's collapse meant Hicks held his spot at No. 25.
"Hopefully, a year from now, if I'm in the same exact position, I would succeed," Hahn said.
Hicks consoled Hahn near the scorer's tent and offered encouragement that his time was close.
For Hicks, he can't wait for the chance to challenge himself against the game's best in 2011. "It tastes pretty sweet right now," Hicks said. "But there were knots in my stomach probably 30 minutes ago."
The Nationwide Tour's final round is typically one where dreams are realized or dashed. Matt Every began the 2009 event 49th on the list, yet took the title here at the Daniel Island Club's Ralston Creek course to advance to the PGA Tour.
There were hugs of joy and regret near the clubhouse as friends who've played alongside each other since January's opening event in New Zealand celebrated promotions or hunkered down for more work ahead.
"There was a lot of tension going down to the end," Gardiner said. "I've done the best that I could. I'm happy."
Positions 26th through 40th are exempted into the final stage of the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament in December. Even Hicks, excited about his PGA Tour card, might take part to try to improve his status.
PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem was on hand to award the 25 new members cards. "It's so exciting to see them get ready for next year," Finchem said.
Joe Affrunti began the week 34th on the money list and moved himself into a tie for fourth entering the final round. The 29-year-old tour rookie from Chicago saw his PGA Tour chances fading with a tee shot into the water on the 16th hole.
But Affrunti saved bogey and kept his spot at No. 22 with a closing birdie.
"It's awesome, are you kidding me?" Affrunti said. "You play for more money. You go to cooler places. What more could you ask for?"