FARRAGUT, Tenn. – Darron Stiles held off a host of competitors in the final round at Fox Den Country Club on Sunday. His 4-under 67 put him at 18-under par 266, good enough to take home the trophy at the News Sentinel Open on the Web.com Tour.
Scott Gardiner, D.J. Brigman and Nicholas Thompson finished in a tie for second place at 17-under 267.
Erik Flores finished alone in fifth at 16-under 268 while Brice Garnett, two-time major champion John Daly, Scott Dunlap and Jeff Gove shared sixth place at 15-under 269.
Stiles got off to a shaky start after missing a short putt for par on his first hole of the day. It was an improbable make on the next hole, though, that was crucial in allowing him to get back in his comfort zone.
“The key was on No. 2 making a 30-footer for birdie,” Stiles, the all-time leading money-earner on the Web.com Tour, pointed out. “That got me settled back down and allowed me to just let my ball striking take over.”
With a birdie at the par-5 fifth, the Florida Southern University alum felt that he still had a chance to win. And when he walked by a leaderboard on the way to the 10th tee, he knew that he was still in it.
“I saw Scotty (Scott Gardiner) in at 17 under,” the Florida native explained. “I knew that if I just stuck to my game plan, that if I’m in or close to the lead heading into the back nine that I had a shot at it.”
The turning point of the round came with an unlikely chip-in for eagle on the par-5 10th. That put the 27-year touring pro at 17 under and tied for the lead. And once he made birdie on the 14th to take the outright lead, Stiles was in the driver seat and in control of the tournament.
Coming into 18 with a one-shot lead, Stiles had a familiar feeling. It was in 2002, the last time he won this tournament, that he had a one-stroke lead with one to play. Without a second thought, he pulled the driver from the bag and piped it straight down the middle of the fairway.
“The game plan was to stay aggressive all day and don’t deviate from that,” the 39-year-old noted. “Today was eerily similar to Sunday 10 years ago, in that I had a one-stroke lead with one to play.”
With a wedge in hand, Stiles hit the center of the green and two putts later became a two-time News Sentinel Open champion. The father of two believes his win is a jumping-off point for the rest of the season, for it was only a few months ago that he fell short at the BMW Charity Pro-Am.
“I let one slip away in Greenville by three-putting the last hole,” Stiles admitted. “This is the spring board for the rest of the year. Now that I got a win, I can get another one.”
With this victory, the Pinehurst Resort member moves into the eighth spot on the money list and comes that much closer to locking up his PGA Tour card for 2013. So what does Stiles feel this win will do for him the rest of this year?
“It will free me up for the rest of the year,” he said with a smile. “I can be more aggressive. I can get up to Pittsburgh and just go for it. Why not win two in a row?”
--D.J. Brigman birdied Nos. 17 and 18 after a bogey on 16 to take a share of second place. He attributed his wedge game to his low score and overall good play.
“I proud of myself for making birdie on 17 and 18, to give myself a chance,” Brigman said with a smile. “I have been working on my wedge game on the wedge range at the University of New Mexico, I told myself trust all the hard work you’ve been doing and you will be fine.”
--Nicholas Thompson found plenty of positives to talk about after his final round 7-under 67. Thompson believes that his ball striking and his putting are the reasons why he has plenty to be excited about the rest of the season.
“I’ve made I think 20 birdies and an eagle this week,” the 29-year-old noted. “I’ve played really good this year, just my putter has not clicked, but it clicked on the back nine today.”
The tie for second propelled him to 24th on the money list, and the former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket believes that it can only get better as the season comes down to the final stretch.
“I should get that yellow bib now,” the Florida resident pointed out. “And hopefully I won’t relinquish it.”
--Scott Gardiner tied the tournament course record, as it relates to par, with a bogey-free 9-under 62. Gardiner, who has never played a PGA Tour event, moves into 17th place on the money list.
--The next stop on the Web.com Tour is the Mylan Classic at Southpointe Golf Club in Canonsburg, Pa. Aug. 27-Sept. 2.