Casey Wittenberg capped off a nearly flawless week with 6-under 65 Sunday to win the Chitimacha Louisiana Open by a tournament-record eight strokes. Wittenberg started the final round with a four-shot lead and steadily stretched it out as the day went on to match the fourth-largest victory margin in Nationwide Tour history.
The 27-year-old from Memphis set a tournament record with his 260 total of 24 under and earned $90,000 for his first Nationwide Tour win.
"It's a great feeling," said Wittenberg, who was runner-up at the 2003 U.S. Amateur to Nick Flanagan. "I've put a lot of hard work into my game. I've probably underachieved to where I thought I might be at this point in my life, but golf's a humbling game. It's a tough sport and you have to cherish these weeks when you play good."
Wittenberg didn't play good, he played great. The former Oklahoma State standout had a pair of eagles, 22 birdies and just two bogeys in 72 holes -- and both of those were three-putts. He played the final 48 holes without a bogey.
"I really putted great the last three days," he said.
Fabian Gomez, Chris Riley and Paul Claxton tied for second at 16-under 268. Brad Fritsch, Woody Austin, Rob Oppenheim and Camilo Benedetti shared fifth place, nine shots back.
Sunday's finale turned out to be a walk in the park for Wittenberg, who opened with a birdie at No. 1 and kept the field at arm's length all afternoon.
"Fortunately, nobody really came after me today," he said. "I figured the field pace was probably going to be 4 under so I thought if I could shoot 5 under then somebody else was going to have shoot 9 under to catch me. I didn't know if that was possible."
It wasn't. Wittenberg's closest challengers failed to gain any ground on him as he drove it down the middle -- he was a perfect 13 of 13 off the tee -- and missed only four greens.
"I lost one out here a couple years ago with a lead and a couple holes to play," he said, recalling a playoff loss to Justin Hicks at the 2008 Ford Wayne Gretzky Classic. ""Weird things can happen out here. I tried to play aggressive but smart golf. We just got in our bubble and did our thing."
Wittenberg put on an exhibition in the last round, canning every significant putt he faced. With Chris Riley putting pressure on him, Wittenberg rolled in a 55-foot birdie putt at No. 9 from the back fringe, saved par from 8 feet at No. 10 and added another birdie from 12 feet at No. 11, essentially putting the tournament out of reach.
"I tried to believe in myself today," said Wittenberg, who moves to No. 4 on the money list. "I've been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time around a lot of great players like Anthony Kim and Ivan Lendl and those guys are known for being able to close the deal. That's what I wanted to accomplish today."
--Casey Wittenberg's eight-stroke margin of victory ties the fourth-largest in Nationwide Tour history. The largest was 12 strokes, by Steve Wheatcroft in the 2011 Melwood Prince George's County Open. Chris Smith won the 1997 Omaha Classic by 11 and Marc Leishman won the 2008 WNB Classic by 11, while Chris Nallen won the 2004 Gila River Golf Classic by eight.
--Wittenberg set career-bests for lowest 72-hole total and most strokes under par with his effort this week. His previous best score for four rounds was 268 (-16) at the 2011 Utah Championship. His previous best for most strokes under par was 18-under 270 at the 2011 Price Cutter Charity Championship.
--Ten of 19 54-hole leaders/co-leaders have gone on to win this tournament, including five of the last six.
--Rookie Travis Wadkins aced the 173-yard sixth hole using a 7-iron. The hole-in-one was the third of the week, the most in any single year of the tournament's 21-year history. There have now been seven aces at Le Triomphe in the past three years.
--Canada's Brad Fritsch started the day tied for 45th and vaulted up the board with a career-low 9-under 62, which was also the low round of the week. His previous best was 65 (four times), most recently at the 2009 WNB Golf Classic in Texas. Fritsch posted scores of 70-68-69 before tearing up the course with eight birdies and an eagle Sunday and wound up tied for fifth.
"I had a feeling yesterday that I was starting to hit my irons really, really good. I just moved the ball back in my stance a little bit (Friday) and felt less rushed on the downswing," he said. "I started hitting it at my targets. It makes me turn better. It's ridiculously small and it makes a huge difference."
Fritsch, who started the week No. 27 on the money list, earned $16,950 this week and jumped to No. 16. He said the idea was not to go out there and just 'mail it in' on the final day.
"I try not to because you look at the end of the year and you hear stories about guys who miss the top-25 by $800 or a thousand bucks," he said. "You think it could be a day when you start 45th and say forget it and hit driver everywhere and shoot 75. You may not think much of it at the time but at the end of the year it's a huge difference."
--Sweden's Jonas Blixt saw his bogey-free streak come to a halt at 41 holes. Blixt was error-free since his opening round but got off on the wrong foot Sunday. His tee shot on the opening hole was out of bounds and he wound up with a double-bogey 7.
--Fabian Gomez, the 2010 champion, closed with a bogey-free 6-under 65 to finish at 16-under and tied for second.
--Paul Claxton made his first bogey of the day, and just his second of the week at No. 15. The 44-year-old from Georgia shot a 3-under 68 and also wound up tied for second. Claxton was solo second at the Chile Classic two weeks ago and is now No. 5 on the money list.
--Chris Riley also tied for second this week. Riley's caddie was his wife, Michelle, who is originally from Lafayette. Riley moved into contention with an eagle at No. 12 to get to 18 under and within five of the leader but stalled out and eventually dropped a couple of strokes on the final hole after his tee shot found the water. Riley shot a 4-under 67 and wound up at 16-under 268.
Riley has spent the past 13 seasons on the PGA Tour and was making only his third start on the Nationwide Tour in the past four years, and his first of 2012. His wife caddied for the first nine holes Sunday before she had to leave to catch a flight back home to Las Vegas.
"The kids have school tomorrow," said Chris with a chuckle.
--The Nationwide Tour will take next week off before heading to California for two consecutive weeks. The next stop will be in San Jacinto, Calif. (near Palm Springs) for the Soboba Golf Classic at The Country Club at Soboba Springs April 2-8.