Martin Piller capped off a glorious weekend with a 7-under 64 Sunday to come from behind and win the Nationwide Tour’s 15th annual Cox Classic by two strokes over veteran Dicky Pride.
Piller made the 36-hole cut by one stroke but then charged into contention with a 62 on Saturday and roared past the field on Sunday to earn his second win of the season and lock up a spot on the PGA Tour in 2011.
Piller finished at 23-under 261 and turned back a host of challengers to collect the $130,500 first place check.
“I was very determined, I was very focused and I was very aggressive,” said Piller. “I didn’t want to be back here next year, in a good kind of way.”
The victory moved the second-year pro out of Texas A&M from No. 10 to No. 3 on the money list with $318,621 and solidified a trip to the PGA Tour next season, making sure he won’t be back to Nebraska, unless it’s to visit his father’s and brother’s college haunts 60 miles down the road in Lincoln.
Piller becomes the Nationwide Tour’s second two-time winner this year, adding the Omaha title to the one he earned at the Stadion Athens Classic in Georgia.
“Today was a lot different than Athens, where par was good,” said Piller. “I knew today that par was not going to be good and I knew that I was going to have to go out and make something happen. I didn’t have a number in mind. The only number I had in mind was one.”
Piller started the final round in a nine-way tie for third, one shot back of co-leaders Kevin Chappell (tied for fifth) and James Hahn (tied for third). Facing a course that gives up birdies like after-dinner mints at a steakhouse, Piller went flaghunting and slowly moved to the top of a packed leaderboard.
Three consecutive birdies at 6, 7 and 8 got him to 19 under par, one back of the lead, as he approached the 315-yard ninth hole, the easiest par 4 on the Nationwide Tour the past four years.
“I smashed that tee shot and I had the easiest putt in the world,” he said, his ball settling six feet from the pin on a hole that featured $1 beers for 45 minutes for every eagle made. “I wanted to make that one for the fans. That really pumped me up.”
Piller canned the putt to jump into the lead and played to the crowd, letting them know it was party time.
“It was game on,” he said. “I was shaking after that.”
Piller added another birdie at the reachable par-5 10th to get to 22 under and stamp himself as the man to beat. He didn’t know where the field was on a hot afternoon, preferring to stay focused on golf and not numbers.
“I didn’t want to let myself off the hook and I didn’t want to look at a board,” he said. “I told myself to keep swinging hard, keep being aggressive. I didn’t look at a board until after I hit my second shot at 18 and saw I was two up.”
Piller was up because the rest of the leaders weren’t keeping pace. Pride put the heat on with birdies at 13 and 15, but a bogey at 16 derailed his chances and left him in solo second.
“That’s the best I’ve played in a long time,” said Pride, who credited a recent session on his short game with his coach for his improved play. “I really worked on getting my chipping down. There’s always room for improvement. I’ve just got to keep it simple.”
Australian Alistair Presnell piled up six birdies in seven holes to reach 21 under par through 15 holes, but he stumbled with a bogey-birdie-bogey finish to wind up at 20 under and tied for third with rookie James Hahn, a co-leader after 54 holes. Hahn birdied his last two holes but was done in by three bogeys and a double on the final day.
Kevin Chappell, who shared the lead with Hahn at 17 under after three rounds, couldn’t get the putts to drop, settling for a 2-under 69 and a tie for fifth with Bob May, whose 19-under total was the lowest of his career.
Fourth-Round Notes: Martin Piller becomes the Nationwide Tour’s second two-time winner in 2010. Tommy Gainey has also won twice. … Dicky Pride finished at 21 under par this week, lower than he has ever been in his pro career. Pride was making his 460th career start this week and he had never before reached double-double digits (20 under par or better) for a 72-hole event. His previous best on the Nationwide Tour (95th career start) was an 18-under effort at the 2005 Henrico County Open (tied for third). His best on the PGA Tour (365 total starts) is a 17-under effort at the 1994 Federal Express St. Jude Classic, which he won.
Bob May also matched Pride in reaching a number he’d never reached before. May wound up at 19 under, lower than he’s been in 273 career starts. May finished 18 under at the 2006 B.C. Open (second) on the PGA Tour (168 career starts). His best sub-par score on the Nationwide Tour (105th career start) was 16 under at the 2008 Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open (tied for seventh). … Justin Smith tied an all-time Nationwide Tour record by finishing his day with six straight birdies. Smith polished off a back-nine 29 by stuffing his 6-iron on the par-4 18th hole to within two feet and canning the putt for a 63. Smith joins four others who have finished a round with six in a row and he becomes only the second ever to finish a tournament with six straight:
The 315-yard ninth hole played to a scoring average of 3.452 this week, the lowest average score in the tournament’s 15-year history. The hole, which has ranked as the easiest par 4 on Tour each of the past four years, is currently in line to make it five in a row. The hole yielded 16 eagles during the week and 232 birdies, breaking the mark of 222 birdies in 2008. … William McGirt fired a 6-under 65 to reach 13 under par. McGirt ranks No. 8 on the Tour in Final Round Scoring Average (68.43). He has made 8 cuts in 12 starts and has been under-par in seven of the eight final rounds and posted an even-par 70 in the other. He posted a 7-under 64 in the last round at last week’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational.
Martin Piller ran off a birdie-birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie streak today starting at No. 6. His 6-under streak matches the best birdie-eagle streak in tournament history and he joins six others in that category. Scott Sterling in 2007 was the last to accomplish the feat. His streak is also the second-best on the Nationwide Tour this year – Keegan Bradley enjoyed a 7-under stretch at the Ford Wayne Gretzky Classic. … Jamie Lovemark, who came into the week No. 1 on the money list, rallied for a tie for 19th thanks to a final round 65. Lovemark opened the tournament with a 1-over-72 that put him tied for 121st. He posted a 64 in the second round to make the cut on the number (tied for 52nd). A third-round 68 moved him to a tie for 38th. Lovemark earned enough money to retain the No. 1 ranking for the second straight week.