RALEIGH, N.C. -- Sometimes perfect endings aren’t reserved just for the movie folks in Hollywood. Raleigh native Chesson Hadley fired a 7-under 64 Sunday to cap off a storybook effort in front of his family and friends to win the Rex Hospital Open and secure a spot on the PGA Tour in 2014.
Hadley, born at Rex Hospital nearly 26 years ago, waited out a lengthy rain delay before chasing down 54-hole leader Danny Lee to win by two and earn his first career Web.com Tour title.
“Honestly I can’t believe I won this,” said Hadley, who stuffed a wedge to within a foot on the final hole for birdie and the outright lead at 19 under par. “This is the greatest thing that has happened in my golfing career. It’s a dream come true.”
Lee, who battled a balky putter, was at 18 under and needed birdie at the final hole to force a playoff but made bogey and settled for an even-par 71 that left him alone in second place.
Edward Loar (68) finished at 16 under and three back of the winner while Ben Martin (66) and Josh Broadaway (67) tied for fourth, four off the pace.
Hadley was a media darling all week, bombarded with requests, but he delivered at every opportunity including the biggest stage on Sunday. The former Georgia Tech All-America opened with a 8-under 63 at TPC Wakefield Plantation on Thursday but consecutive 2-under 69s put him five behind Lee, who was up by four when the final day began.
“I never thought about winning this tournament,” said Hadley, who has gone from No. 88 to No. 3 on the money list in the span of five weeks. “I didn’t think I had a chance. I just wanted to hold things together, try to make a few birdies and hope I could take a step closer to the big goal, which is playing on the PGA Tour.”
A first-place check for $112,500 pushed his season total to $249,784, which will be more than enough to secure a spot among the 25 leading money winners from the Web.com Tour’s regular season.
Maybe it was luck or perhaps divine intervention that helped Hadley, who hosted a Bible study group on Tuesday, get moving in the right direction after a lackluster start. Afternoon thunderstorms moved through the area and halted play for 2 hours and 15 minutes just as Hadley approached the ninth hole.
Hadley had “made nothing” over the first eight holes and was treading water at even par to that point, still well back of Lee, the former U.S. Amateur champion.
“I didn’t start well and that delay helped,” said Hadley. “I went to the putting green and made a slight change. I narrowed my stance a little bit and when we got back out there I started making some bombs.”
When play resumed, Hadley canned a 30-footer for eagle at No. 9 and never looked back as he made a charge on the inward nine. He rolled in birdie putts of 12 25, 7 and 10 feet as well as a critical 10-footer that saved par at No. 12.
The storyline that unfolded Sunday came down to Lee holding on for a win versus Hadley’s Cinderella run to victory.
“Standing in 18 fairway, I thought I was one back,” said Hadley, who was two groups in front of Lee and actually tied for the lead. “I played the last 10 holes in7 under par after the break. This is how you dream it up – to hit it to within a foot for birdie on the last hole to win in front of a hometown crowd.”
Hadley had the fans in an uproar when his wedge from 130 yards nicked the flag on its descent and stopped a foot from the cup.
“Thank God that was a tap-in because I was so nervous. My knees were shaking so bad,” said Hadley. “If it was much farther away, it sure would have been a lot tougher.”
After knocking in the eventual winner, Hadley charged up the fans with several fist pumps, encouraging them to raise their voices.
The win, though, wasn’t secure until Lee failed to chip in for birdie from behing the 18th green.
“It was like Augusta out there,” said Michael Putnam, who was sandwiched in between the Hadley pairing and the Lee pairing. “Every hole it seemed there was a roar somewhere on the course. It was incredible. It was a lot of fun today.”
Nobody, though, had more fun than the hometown kid.
--The suspension marked the fifth time in 13 events this year that play has been delayed by weather.
--Chesson Hadley is the seventh player to earn his first career win in 2013. He became the third rookie to win this year, joining Patrick Cantlay (Colombia Championship) and Benjamin Alvarado (Chile Classic) in that category.
--Danny Lee’s runner-up finish was his fourth top-10 of the year in 13 starts. The New Zealand native who now calls Dallas home moved up from No. 23 to No. 6 on the money list.
--Edward Loar’s tie for third is his fifth top-10 starts. Loar, winner of the Chitimacha Louisiana Open remains No. 2 on the money list.
--Ben Martin’s tie for fourth is his second top-10 of the year (tied for eighth at the Stadion Classic at UGA). Martin also moved up from No. 30 to No. 21 on the money list.
--It turned out to be a significant week for Tyrone van Aswegen. The 31-year-old South African native became a United States citizen on Wednesday morning in California. The 2004 graduate of Oklahoma City University opened his week with a 66 and closed it with a 67 that pushed him into a tie for 18th place.
“It’s a privilege to be an American. This is where I live,” said the San Diego resident. “I’ve been here since 2000. I’m definitely more American that South African, except for the accent – I have to keep that.”
Van Aswegen, whose wife Cristin is American, began the citizenship process at the beginning of the year, starting with an interview.
“They ask you all kinds of questions and then they give you a whole bunch of things to study about history and the constitution and the presidents,” he said. “It was good to learn all those things. I wound up acing that test, which was pretty cool.”
The ceremony took place at the San Diego Civic Theater where he was part of a group of approximately 750 people taking the oath.
“A judge comes in to do the official swearing in and they tell you to treat it like a courtroom when he comes in,” said the Tour’s newest American citizen. “They play the national anthem and you get goose bumps. It’s always an emotional thing. The whole process takes about 30 minutes. I’m very excited and proud to be an American now. I wouldn’t say it’s the way to go every week but this turned out to be a very special week for me and my family.”
Following the ceremony, van Aswegen caught an early afternoon flight out of San Diego. He connected at Washington Dulles before getting into Raleigh around midnight.
“I didn’t get to my hotel until after 1 in the morning,” he said Sunday following a 4-under 67. “It was tiring but luckily I had an afternoon tee time so I get about seven hours sleep. I’ve been to this course a couple times and my caddie did an excellent job of mapping the course for us.”
--Michael Putnam (sixth) and younger brother Andrew (tied for seventh) both finished in the top-10 for the second time this year: