Gardiner birdies No. 18 four times to win Chattanooga Classic in playoff

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PGA.com

Series:

Scott Gardiner two-putted for birdie on the fourth playoff hole Sunday to beat Joe Affrunti and David Branshaw for the title at the Chattanooga Classic on the Nationwide Tour. Gardiner wasted little time in stepping up for his birdie putt from two feet even though Affrunti was out, staring at an eight-foot putt for par.

“You’ve got less time to think about it,” said Gardiner, who earned his first career title. “I had hit a good putt (from 30 feet) to get it down there and I figured if I make it everybody gets to go home a little earlier. It was a short putt and if Joe missed, I didn’t want him to lose with a bogey.”

It was the fourth time Sunday afternoon that Gardiner birdied the hole.

Playing in the next-to-last group, Gardiner rolled in a 20-footer for birdie on the final hole for a 6-under 66 and a 19-under 269 total. Branshaw and Affrunti matched him with two-putt birdies of their own to force the fourth playoff in the tournament’s eight years.

“I knew those guys were 18-under playing the last hole,” said Gardiner, who blasted his third from a greenside bunker at the 532-yard par 5. “I tried to hit a good putt just like I did all week. I gave myself a shot at it and it was the best putt I’ve ever made.”

Affrunti and Gardiner both birdied the same hole twice to start the playoff. Branshaw was eliminated on the first extra hole after hitting his second shot into a hazard and settling for par. Gardiner then missed a five-foot birdie putt at the par-4 ninth hole, forcing the two to return the par 5.

Affrunti’s second shot found the same hazard guarding the right side of the green that eliminated Branshaw and had a putt for par but never got the chance.

“I just flared my shot and didn’t stay in it,” said Affrunti, who hit a hybrid into the green. “I did the same type of thing earlier in the week but it stayed in the bunker. It was just a bad shot.”

Affrunti, the second- and third-round leader, was in control most of the last round and had built his lead to four strokes with an eagle at the par-5 sixth hole. The 29-year-old Chicagoan stumbled with a double bogey on the next hole but managed to hold the lead until another double bogey at No. 13 dropped him behind Gardiner and playing partner Branshaw.

The drama built over the last five holes of regulation, with all three players making two birdies down the stretch.

“I really didn’t think about winning,” said Gardiner, who was five shots off the pace when the day began. “There were a lot of guys around my number that were playing well this week. I was just trying to have the best finish I could.”

His “best finish” produced a winner’s check for $90,000 and vaulted the 34-year-old Australian from No. 62 to No. 24 on the money list with only two full-field events left before the season-ending Nationwide Tour Championship.

“It’s a lot easier than being 62 on the list and on the cut line on a Friday,” said Gardiner, clutching the large crystal. “It’s great job security knowing I’ll be good for a few years down the road. Hopefully I can play like the next few weeks and go forward.”

The 25 leading money winners at the end of the year will earn their PGA Tour cards for 2011.

Fourth-Round Notes: This was the fourth playoff in the tournament’s eight years (2005, 2006, 2008 and 2010). … This was the second-longest playoff in tournament history. Jason Schultz needed six holes to defeat Joe Daley, Jerry Smith and Scott Weatherly in 2005. … This was the fourth playoff on Tour this year, ending a streak of 12 consecutive weeks without a playoff. … This was the first three-man playoff on Tour since the 2007 Mark Christopher Charity Classic on Oct. 7. Richard Johnson defeated Matthew Jones and Jeremy Anderson for that title.

Hometown favorite Luke List shot a 3-under 69 and wound up tied for 33rd. List, who attended the Baylor School and played his high school matches on this course, had two Sunday eagles on par 5s (Nos. 5, 14). … Brian Vranesh finished his round E-B-B-B-B for a 1-under 71. Vranesh started his closing run after a triple-bogey 7 at the par-4 13th hole, and tied for 43rd. … Canada’s Bronson La’Cassie had three eagles this week after carding only two eagles in his previous 58 rounds this year. … Jason Gore had a pair of back-nine eagles Sunday, giving him four 4 for the week. Gore eagled the par-5 14th and 18th holes for a 6-under 66. He ended the week at 14 under and tied for 16th, his best finish on Tour this year.

Patrick Sheehan had a solid weekend, shooting scores of 65-66. He closed out his round with a pair of eagles on the back nine (Nos. 14, 18) for a 6-under day. Sheehan wound up at 16 under par and tiede for fifth. … First-round leader Todd Demsey shot a 10-under 62 on Thursday, but finished at 9 under for the week, posting rounds of 75-71-71 after his opener.