Australian James Nitties pulled away from the field at the Midwest Classic, firing a 6-under 65 in Sunday’s final round to win by five and collect his first Nationwide Tour title.
Nitties kept his challengers at bay during the last day at the Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate before rolling in a pair of late birdies, coupled with a stumble by playing partner J.J. Killeen that put him in the winner’s circle.
The 7,251-yard, par-72 Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate was designed by Jack Nicklaus and opened in 2001.
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“I thought the boys were hot on my heels the whole back nine,” said Nitties, who owned a one-stroke lead after 54 holes. “This is the kind of course where a one-shot lead feels like nothing. You know all the guys are going to be going nuts making birdies. Everyone was flying up the leaderboard.”
Nitties finished at 26-under-par 258, which matches the second-best winning score in Nationwide Tour history. Fellow Australian Nick Flanagan (68) bogeyed the final hole to drop to 21 under par and into a tie for second with Sweden’s Jonas Blixt (66), who birdied his last hole.
“I was walking down the fairway on the last and my caddie said ‘you’ve got three,’” said Nitties. “I said three what? I need to make a three for birdie? He said ‘no, you’ve got a three-shot lead.’”
It turned into four when Flanagan missed a short putt and increased to five when Nitties canned a 20-foot birdie putt.
“When that putt goes in, you feel like it’s your week,” said Nitties, who collected $99,000 and jumped from No. 63 to No. 12 on the money list. “You have lead and the putt goes in. You feel like you’re destined to win.”
Nitties dealt with the final-round pressure nearly perfectly. He hit 16 of 18 greens, more than any of the first three rounds, but it was his work on the greens that propelled him to victory.
“Usually I’m a streaky putter,” he said. “I’ll putt good for one round and then not hole anything the rest of the week. This week I actually holed the putts I should hole and then made the most of my opportunities.
Nitties and Killeen (70) were neck and neck during the opening holes. Nitties put four birdies on the board through eight holes and Killeen countered with two birdies and an eagle to stay one back, right where he started the final round.
Killeen, looking to become the Nationwide Tour’s first three-time winner in 2011, was still one back when he missed a short putt for par at No. 14 and then imploded with a triple bogey at No. 15. That put Nitties too far in front with not enough time for anyone to make a serious run.
“I’ve been waiting for this one for a while,” said the 28-year-old from Melbourne, who spent the past two seasons on the PGA Tour. “It seemed like everything went my way this week. It was my day today. There’s still a lot of golf left to play this season but this puts me in good position to get back to the Tour.”
--James Nitties’ previous best finish on the Nationwide Tour was a tie for fourth at the Mexico Open in June.
--Jonas Blixt finished tied for second for the second time in three weeks. He also tied for second at the Omaha Classic. Blixt moved up from No. 30 to No. 11 on the money list with his efforts this week.
--Nick Flanagan’s tie for second was his best finish on the Nationwide Tour since he earned his “battlefield promotion” with his third victory of the 2007 season at the Xerox Classic. Flanagan had made only six cuts in 13 starts this year and hadn’t been better than a tie for 38th at the Melwood Prince George’s County Open. He earned enough money to go from No. 138 to No. 63 on the money list.
--Veteran Jeff Brehaut (tied for eighth) collected his first top-10 finish of the year. In his previous 13 starts this year, his best finish was a tie for 15th at the BMW Charity Pro-Am.
--Jason Kokrak shot a 6-under 65 to move into a tie for fourth place, his career best and only the second top-10 of his season. Kokrak tied for ninth at the Utah Championship last month. Kokrak also moved up from No. 94 to No. 67 on the money list.
--Scott Dunlap reeled off five consecutive birdies for the third time this week. Dunlap birdied Nos. 6-10 en route to a 5-under 66. He had a pair of five-in-a-row stretches on Friday when he fired a course-record 11-under 60. Dunlap (6-10), Gary Christian (5-9) and Aaron Goldberg (3-7) all had birdie streaks of five straight.
--Andrew Svoboda (64) finished solo seventh, which matches the best finish of his career.
--J.J. Killeen (tied for fourth) earned enough money ($22,733) to overtake Australia’s Mathew Goggin for the No. 1 spot on the money list. Killeen now has $349,320 and leads Goggin by $5,468. Goggin has been No. 1 on the list since the Fresh Express Classic but did not play this week.