Jhonattan Vegas had waited a full year to win the Nationwide Tour’s Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open, a tournament he let slip away on the final day in 2009. So what was an extra 90 minutes of waiting time?
Finishing eight groups ahead of the leaders after starting the day six strokes behind, Vegas took his 7-under 64 with him to the players’ lounge, where he ate a sandwich and talked to his caddie, hoping his 20-under clubhouse lead would be enough to get him into a playoff.
“I just relaxed and didn’t pay attention to what was happening,” Vegas said.
As it turned out, 20 under was enough to win, no playoff necessary. Vegas had seven birdies and no bogeys Sunday.
Vegas said he didn’t think much about last year’s final round at Crestview Country Club, where he took a two-stroke lead into the final round only to shoot a Sunday 74 to tie for fourth.
“Before the round today, I was talking to Fabian Gomez. We felt that if we got to 21 under, we would have a chance,” Vegas added.
As 54-hole leader Roberto Castro and Steven Bowditch continued their rounds on the back nine, Vegas, a Venezuelan who lives in Austin, Texas, eventually left the players’ lounge and made his way to the range to chip, putt and hit a few balls -- just in case. Castro and Bowditch headed to the par-5 18th hole one stroke behind Vegas.
“Them coming to 18, I was 100 percent sure there would be a playoff with 18 playing the way it was,” Vegas said.
Bowditch eliminated himself from contention by hitting his drive out of bounds, double bogeyed the hole and tied for fourth. Castro’s drive was in the left rough, and he short-sided himself with his second shot, with very little green to work with to a pin tucked on the right side. He couldn’t get up and down for birdie to force the playoff as his 20-foot putt slid by on the right.
“I hit [the approach] a little right, and with that wind it was done-zo,” Castro said of his approach on the finishing hole. He faced a tricky flop shot to put himself in position on the green. “I told my caddie I have to get a look at the putt. I would make a 20-foot putt easier than I would if I flubbed the chip in the bunker and tried to hole out.
“It wasn’t a putt I could rip in there,” continued Castro, who shot an even-par 71 Sunday. “The greens were baked out and stepped on. But the key was my second shot. That was the mistake.”
“For those guys not to birdie 18, I had to have a little luck on my side,” added Vegas.
For Vegas, the win moved him to seventh on the money list, with $208,959, and virtually assured him of his 2011 PGA Tour card.
“I feel really confident about myself to have this win,” he said. “To have something like this to hopefully take to the PGA Tour is special.”
Although disappointed, Castro was happy to know he is in the field for next week’s Price Cutter Charity Championship in Springfield, Mo., based on his finish here. He also moved to 57th on the money list despite only playing three 2010 events. Most of his play this season has taken place on the mini-tours. “I haven’t been playing out here, and now I’m going to get some starts,” Castro said. “I’m excited I’m going to play some tournaments.”
Also excited were Vegas’ family and friends in both Venezuela and Texas. “I don’t even want to look at my phone for texts,” Vegas said. “It will just explode.”
Final-Round Notes: Kyle Thompson had a 5-foot putt for eagle on No. 18 that would have given him a 62, but settled for birdie and tied for 17th. It’s the second time in a week that he’s shot a 63. He opened the Cox Classic with a 63 last week. Thompson also had a final-round 63 at the Fort Smith Classic earlier this season, where he finished second. … Nick Rousey, a native of Pensacola, Fla., made his Nationwide Tour debut last week at the Cox Classic when he Monday-qualified into the field. His opening-round 73 hurt his chances of making the cut, especially after he shot a second-round 64. That was a sign of things to come, though, for the University of Alabama product. He shots rounds of 67-70-67-63 to tie for fourth. His finish automatically qualifies him to play next week in the Price Cutter Charity Championship.
A total of 19 players had four rounds in the 60s this week. They were Ryan Armour, Adam Bland, Jonas Blixt, Dan Buchner, Paul Claxton, Bubba Dickerson, Scott Dunlap, Hunter Haas, Chris Kamin, Chris Kirk, Kevin Kisner, Doug LaBelle II, Jin Park, Stephen Poole, Michael Putnam, David Robinson, Daniel Summerhays, Tjaart van der Walt and champion Jhonattan Vegas. … In two Wichita Opens, Vegas has tied for fourth (2009) and won (2010). He’s had seven of his eight rounds in the 60s, and he has a stroke average of 66.87. … The par-4 sixth was the most difficult hole at Crestview this week. The stroke average there Sunday was 4.368, a little higher than the cumulative 4.240. The five birdies there Sunday came from Jeff Curl, Scott Dunlap, Bob May, John Riegger and Kyle Thompson, who birdied it in the third and final rounds.
Daniel Summerhays had an interesting final round, punctuated by his eagle on No. 18, the second eagle he had on his back nine Sunday. Summerhays began his final round the same way he did Saturday -- with three consecutive birdies. He added two more birdies along the way, and also had seven pars, two bogeys and two double bogeys to get to a 3-under 68 and a tie-for-fourth finish. … Gavin Coles opened his round with a bogey and closed with an eagle. In between he had 12 pars and four birdies for a 5-under 66. He tied for 37th. … Martin Piller closed the gap between him and leading money-winner Jamie Lovemark, who did not play this week. Piller is in third place, $26,117 behind and a little less than $7,000 behind Tommy Gainey, who had to withdraw from this week’s tournament because of an injury.