Argentina’s Miguel Carballo, buoyed by back-to-back back-nine eagles, stepped into the winner’s circle Sunday at the Nationwide Tour’s ninth annual Children’s Hospital Classic.
Carballo rolled in consecutive 30-footers to turn the tide during the final round at Black Creek Mountain and collect his second career win, and his first in five years. A four-foot birdie putt at the closing hole was the icing on his cake, an 8-under 64 that gave him a two-shot win over Monday qualifier Brice Garnett.
“I can’t describe this feeling,” said Carballo as his caddie interpreted for the media. “This is absolutely spectacular.”
Carballo, a playoff runner-up two weeks ago in California, picked up the winner’s check for $90,000 to move to No. 5 on the money list which guarantees the 32-year-old a spot on the PGA Tour next year.
There are only three events left on the Nationwide Tour schedule and the 25 leading money winners following the Tour Championship at Daniel Island will earn PGA Tour cards for 2012. Carballo’s current total is more than enough to land him a spot in that group.
San Diego rookie Aaron Goldberg finished third, three shots back and Floridian Matt Every was solo fourth, five behind. Lefty B.J. Staten was alone in fifth.
Third-round leader John Mallinger shot a 3-over 75 and settled for a tie for sixth with Doug LaBelle, Billy Hurley and 2044 champion Justin Bolli.
Sunday’s final round was in the hands of the red-hot Mallinger, who has been a regular figure among the daily leaders for the past five weeks but still seeking his first career win. When the 32-year-old rolled in birdies on the second and third holes, he was at 22 under and held a four stroke lead.
Then it happened. The wheels came off.
Mallinger four-putted a par 5 to make double bogey at No. 6, then yanked his tee shot on the par-3 seventh and watched his ball hit a cart path and go out of bounds. Double bogey.
His second shot at the ninth hole wound up in a hazard in front of the green. Another double.
Before he knew what hit him, his four-shot lead was gone and he was five shots back of the new leaders, Carballo and Hurley, who witnessed Mallinger’s melt down first hand.
“I thought I was mentally strong coming out of the gate with birdies,” said Mallinger. “I made a couple of bad putts, then one bad swing. It was a shocker. I can’t really explain it.”
Mallinger didn’t settle down until midway through the back nine but by then the damage was done. A half dozen players were challenging for the lead, led by Carballo, who was one group in front of Mallinger and Hurley and had eagled that same par 5 where Mallinger made seven.
“I really didn’t know what was going on with them,” Carballo siad. “The first time I looked at a board was on the ninth hole.”
What he saw was his name atop the leaderboard.
Playing with Garnett, who tried to keep pace, Carballo edged in front with his second and third eagles of the afternoon at Nos. 14 and 15. The second one came on a 347-yard par 4 where the tees had been moved up far enough to entice the thrill-seekers to try and drive the green.
“I was talking to my caddie and we just decided to hit it at the green,” he said. “It was a great shot, about 30 feet, right in the middle.”
Carballo, tied for third in putting this week, was perfect.
“Those two holes, those were the most important,” said the winner. “I still felt like I needed to make birdies.”
Carballo’s second shot at the next hole, a par 4, nearly went in for another eagle but settled less than two feet from the cup and he made birdie.
Garnett was counterpunching and making birdies of his own and was only one shot back with two to go.
“I just started making some putts,” said Garnett, who was a member of the Tour a year ago but without status in 2011. “I was so happy the way I held up on the back side today.”
Both players made bogey at the par-3 17th, setting the stage for some drama at the 532-yard par 5.
Garnett’s second shot wound up in a hazard but a near miraculous chip hit the hole and stopped six feet away. Carballo was in the greenside bunker in two and blasted to four feet. Garnett needed to make his putt to force Carballo’s hand.
“After he missed, I knew I had two putts to win,” said Carballo. “I wanted to make that one for birdie because that’s how you win the championship.”
--Miguel Carballo’s first win on Tour came in his very first start -- the 2007 Movistar Panama Championship -- a span of 122 starts and 4 years, 8 months and 11 days.
--Brice Garnett was attempting to become the 21st Monday qualifier to win on the Nationwide Tour. The last Monday qualifier to win was Ted Potter Jr., who won the South Georgia Classic earlier this year.
--With his fourth-place finish this week Matt Every moved up from No. 22 to No. 16 on the money list. Aaron Goldberg moved up 15 places to No. 43 on the money list.
--Doug LaBelle played the final 11 holes in 7 under par, closing with a birdie-birdie-eagle finish to get to 17 under par. LaBelle’s 8-under 64 was the best round of the day.
--John Mallinger played the two par 5s on the front nine in 2 over par for four days. Those holes were two of the easiest three holes on the course. He moved up two spots to No. 9 on the money list. He now has posted six consecutive top-10 finishes to tie the Nationwide Tour’s all-time record. Doug Martin had six in a row during the 1993 season but not in six consecutive weeks. Martin had four in a row then did not play for a month and finally closed the season with two more. Tom Gillis also had six straight during a nine-tournament stretch in the 2009 season. Neither Martin nor Gillis included a win their six in a row.