J.J. Killeen opened the Nationwide Tour’s Utah Championship with a 9-under 62 to tie the Willow Creek Country Club record, and he never let up.
He followed up his sterling first round with a 67-68-65 finish -- sharing at least a tie for the lead after every round -- to win the tournament, his first on the Nationwide Tour. His 22-under 262 tied the tournament 72-hole record first set by Brendon Todd in 2008.
With his dad, Joe, working this week as his caddie, and his mom, Suze, wife Tasha, and daughter Olivia, in the gallery, Killeen turned in a six-birdie, no-bogey performance Sunday to break free from a tie with Jeff Gove at the start of the round to win going away. His routine par on No. 18 gave Killeen a four-stroke victory.
“It was really special having my mom and dad here, especially my dad on my bag,” Killeen said of the win worth $99,000 that vaulted him from 25th on the money list to fourth. “I got a little emotional when I saw my wife and daughter. It just feels great. I’ve never felt this good before. I hadn’t won out here and hadn’t won since some amateur tournaments.”
When asked about the traditional player-caddie payment system and how he would handle things with his father, Killeen didn’t take long to mention how things would go with his dad, a Lubbock, Texas, obstetrician and gynecologist.
“He wouldn’t accept a cent from me in a million years,” Killeen said of the man who got him started in golf. “I could offer it, and he would tell me to take a hike, for sure.”
Maybe dad and son can go out for dinner, J.J.’s treat.
Despite coming up short in his bid for a fourth career Nationwide Tour title, Gove was happy with his week outside Salt Lake City at a tournament that saw him match his 18-hole course record with another 9-under 62.
“I could play this course every week for the rest of the year. Are you kidding me?” he joked. “I’m really pleased, though. It was fun to get back in contention. My putting was the best it’s felt in years, and I’m really happy with that.
“I was 18 under for the week, and I haven’t done that in a while,” Gove added.
For his efforts, Gove earned $59,400 and slid into the 20th position on the money list. But it wasn’t so much Gove losing the tournament than Killeen winning it.
After Killeen opened with a birdie on the first hole, Gove countered and took the lead when he eagled the par-5 third hole for the second consecutive day by draining a 25-foot putt. Although he was bogey-free for the third round of his week, Gove made nothing but pars the remainder of the day. Killeen made just enough birdies along the way to keep things comfortable -- especially on the back nine.
Casey Wittenberg shot a final-round 65 to jump into third place by himself, while James Hahn and Bud Cauley tied for fourth.
Killeen, although safely inside the top 25 on the money list and likely headed to the PGA Tour for the first time, in 2012, is not taking anything for granted and will be playing next week in Omaha, Neb., at the Cox Classic.
“Nothing is guaranteed out here, so I’m just going to keep grinding,” he said.
--Nicholas Thompson had the low round of the day. He went out early and recorded eight birdies and no bogeys for a 63. He went from a tie for 54th to a tie for 12th, his best showing since a fourth-place performance at the Melwood Prince George’s County Open. He improved from 58th on the money list to 50th.
--Bud Cauley, playing on a sponsor’s exemption, recovered nicely from a double-bogey-7 on his opening hole. He made six birdies the rest of the way to tie for fourth and earn a spot in next week’s Cox Classic.
--Casey Wittenberg has only played four Nationwide Tour events and has made the most of his opportunities. The latest came this week, as he finished third. He tied for ninth at the Mexico Open, tied for 33rd at the Chiquita Classic near Cincinnati and was 13th at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational in Columbus, Ohio. He was 59th on the money list coming in. He’s now 34th.
--In his 14th event of the season, James Hahn easily had his best finish. rior to his tie for fourth in Utah, Hahn’s top performance was a tie for 19th at the Fresh Express Classic in California and a tie for 20th at the Preferred Health Systems Wichita Classic. He moved from 77th on the money list to No. 46.
--There were 10 eagles Sunday, and Jason Allred had two of them, while Jeff Gove had his third of the tournament and second on No. 3. Allred’s came on Nos. 1 and 17. The other eagles came from Mark Anderson (No. 17), Miguel Angel Carballo (No. 12), Ken Duke (No. 17), James Hahn (No. 12), Cliff Kresge (No. 1), Kyle Reifers (No. 12) and Brian Vranesh (No. 12). There were 45 eagles this week, with No. 12 yielding four Sunday and 12 overall.