Scotland’s Russell Knox put the pedal to the metal on Sunday and cruised to his first career victory at the Nationwide Tour’s Chiquita Classic.
The 26-year-old from Inverness began the day with a one-stroke lead and was nearly flawless in posting a 6-under-par 66, good for a three-stroke win and a first-place check of $99,000. The victory moved him from No. 27 to No. 5 on the season money, which isn’t bad for a guy who started the year with no place to play.
REVIEW TPC RIVER'S BEND
“This is the best day of my life, 100 times over,” said Knox as he hoisted the silver hardware. “This is very exciting for me because it’s my first trophy. On the mini-tours we just get a check.”
Knox started the year as a Monday qualifier and is now in a position to challenge for a berth on the PGA Tour next year. The 25 leading money-winners at the end of the year will earn PGA Tour cards for the 2012 season.
“I knew this was possible,” said Knox on his sudden successes. “I’ve played well the last three years since turning pro. I’ve worked hard and dedicated my whole life to playing professional golf.”
Former Navy Lieutenant Billy Hurley closed with six birdies on the back nine for a 64 and a 22-under total, good for solo second, his career best effort.
Hurley has seen his game turn for the better in recent weeks, as he also finished fifth in his last start, the Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open. Hurley has now posted sub-par scores in his last nine rounds and has gone from No. 173 to 22 on the money list with his last two starts. Hurley was 14 under at Wichita and 22 under this week.
Brian Stuard (65) and England’s Greg Owen (67) tied for third at 20 under par. Chris Nallen posted the day’s best score, a 9-under 63 to move to 19 under and tie for fifth place, along with Josh Broadaway (69) and B.J. Staten (71).
The day and the week belonged to Knox, who was never seriously challenged during the final 18 holes at TPC River’s Bend.
“I’m super, super happy,” he said, not being able to contain his smile. “There are so many good players out here and you have to bring it every week,”
Knox not only brought it, but he owned it this week statistically. He was third in fairways hit, first in greens in regulation and tied for first in putting. He also tied for first with the most birdies (28) and had the fewest bogeys (3) of anyone in the field.
“It’s been an unbelievable week,” he said.
Knox took his one-stroke lead after 54 holes and stretched it to four by the time he made the turn thanks to birdies at Nos. 3, 4, 6, 7 and 8.
“I always like to get under par before I get over par,” he said. “I think I was fortunate that the other guys didn’t shoot good scores today. I thought they were all coming at me.”
His closest challengers never got off the starting line.
Knox kept the pressure on and rolled in another birdie at No. 11 to get to 24 under par.
“My goal was to get to 25 under today,” he said. “I thought that was a pretty good number. I definitely expected several players to play well. I knew that at any point any of these guys could catch on fire. I fully expected not to be in the lead at some point, but I guess that never happened.”
It didn’t because Knox hit nearly every fairway (6 of 7) and every green (8 of 9) on the back nine.
“I was trying to get it on the greens because I felt so good putting,” he said. “It took a lot of pressure off me trying to hit it in there close.”
Another birdie at No. 15 pushed him to his number (25) and all he needed from there were three solid pars to close it out.
“I tried to stay aggressive,” he said. “I was just trying to stay calm and finish the race.”
--Chris Nallen’s 9-under 63 was his best round of the year, the best final round of his career and the second-lowest score of his career. His previous low final round was a 7-under 65 at this event last year. His career-low round is a 12-under 60 in the first round of the 2004 Gila River Golf Classic, which was his first career start on Tour. He did something similar last year, shooting a 7-under 65 on the last day to move up to a tie for fifth.
--Brian Stuard had a pair of eagles at the par-5 eighth and 11th holes. His tie for third matches his career best on Tour -- a tie for third at the 2009 Soboba Golf Classic.
--Russell Knox’ bogey at the par-3 fifth hole ended a streak of 52 consecutive holes without a bogey. Knox’ last bogey came on No. 15 (his sixth of the day) during the opening round.
--Greg Owen led the field with four eagles this week -- one in each round.
--Despite missing the cut this week, Mathew Goggin maintained his place at No. 1 on the money list. Goggin has been at the top for 10 of 12 weeks this year, including the last nine in a row.
--Drew Weaver’s 8-under birdie/eagle streak matches the third-best in Nationwide Tour history. Weaver, the 2007 British Amateur champion and a 2009 graduate of Virginia Tech, eagled the par-5 18th hole and then birdied the first six holes on the front nine. That is the best on the Nationwide Tour, topping the mark of 7 under by Clayton Rask in the second round of this event.