COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ben Kohles rolled in a 22-foot birdie on the first playoff hole Sunday to beat Luke Guthrie and win the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational in his first professional start.
Kohles, the 54-hole leader, birdied two of his final three holes in regulation to finish at 12-under 272 and force a playoff with Guthrie, who minutes earlier rolled in nearly the exact same putt for birdie on his 72nd hole to shoot a 5-under 66 and take temporary possession of the clubhouse lead of this Web.com Tour event.
Kohles and Guthrie, both college All-Americans this past year, returned to the 439-yard 18th hole for the tournament’s second playoff in six years.
Guthrie, who played at Illinois, missed his birdie try from 25 feet and then watched as Kohles became the 13th player in Web.com Tour history to win in his first start.
Kohles becomes the first player to win a Web.com Tour event in his first pro start. After finishing tied for 18th at the Porter Cup in New York a week ago, Kohles came to Columbus and checked the box labeled “professional” on his registration form.
“It’s absolutely a dream come true,” said Kohles, who, unlike the other first-time winners before him, had no prior professional experience. “What more can you ask for in your first pro event than to win? It’s still a bit of shock and I’m not sure it’s all sunk in yet.”
With the win, Kohles becomes the third collegian or former collegian to win this event since it began in 2007. Daniel Summerhays had just completed his junior year at BYU when he won the inaugural event. Harris English was barely out of his graduation gap and gown from Georgia when he birdied the final hole last year to win as an amateur.
Kohles isn’t an amateur anymore but he’s as close as it gets. He also one-ups Summerhays and English by collecting the $144,000 first-place check, the second-largest on Tour.
“Coming straight out of college I didn’t have any money to my name, but I guess I have some now,” he said with a laugh.
Kohles moves from nowhere to No. 13 on the Tour money list. The 25 leading money winners at the end of the year will earn their PGA Tour cards for 2013.
For his runner-up finish, Guthrie pockets $86,400, which he can add to the $284,672 he’s won in three PGA Tour starts since finishing up his college career at Illinois.
“There are a lot of good college players out there and a lot of good college programs,” said Guthrie. “When we get out here we relish the moment. It’s our chance to play well and show what we’ve got.”
Kohles certainly showed plenty of moxie. The 22-year-old started the final round at the Scarlet Course at Ohio State University with a two-stroke lead but fell into a jumbled leaderboard when he stumbled with bogeys at Nos. 5 and 6.
Several challenged for the lead, but nobody was able to break free from the pack.
Casey Wittenberg, the Tour’s only two-time winner this year, looked like he’d make it three wins when he birdied No. 16 to get to 12 under par, but was done in by a bogey on the next and then missed his shot at birdie on the last.
Wittenberg shot a 68 but wound up one shot back along with veteran Cliff Kresge (69). Penn State’s Kevin Foley birdied his final two holes for a 66 and a 10-under total, good for solo fifth. Aaron Watkins shot an even-par 71 for sixth place, three off the pace.
Fourth-Round Notes –
--Ben Kohles becomes the 13th player to win in his first Web.com Tour start. The others are Mike Springer (1990 Bakersfield Open), Buddy Gardner (1990 Panama City Beach Classic), Ted Tryba (1990 Gateway Open), Lindy Miller (1990 Amarillo Open), P.H. Horgan III (1991 Yuma Open), Gary McCord (1991 Gateway Open), Angel Franco (1993 Dominion Open), Stuart Appleby (1995 Monterrey Open), Gavin Coles (2002 Jacobs Creek Open), Chris Nallen (2004 Gila River Golf Classic), Kyle Reifers (2006 Chattanooga Classic) and Miguel Carballo (2007 Movistar Panama Championship).
The other 12 winners all had various amounts of professional experience before they made their Web.com Tour debut. The one with the least amount of pro experience was Reifers, who turned pro after graduation and won a mini-tour event in his first pro start. Reifers followed up the next week by Monday qualifying at the Chattanooga Classic and then going on to win that tournament, too.
--Casey Wittenberg (tied for third) collects a check for $46,400 and pushes his season total to $288,083 to move to No. 1 on the money list for the first time in his career. Wittenberg supplants Paul Haley (m/c) in the top spot. Wittenberg has now made 14 starts this year and made the cut nine times. He has six top-25 finishes and four top-10s.
--By virtue of his fifth-place finish, Penn State grad Kevin Foley earned enough money to qualify for Special Temporary Membership on the Web.com Tour. Foley came into the week with $35,984 in three previous starts. He needed to attain the equivalent of No. 100 on the 2011 money list – Dawie van der Walt’s $43,293. Foley earned $32,000 and his current total is $67,984. He moved from No. 78 to No. 44 on the money list. He will have conditional status for the remainder of the year and will also be subject to the category reshuffle.
--By finishing solo second, Luke Guthrie also earns Special Temporary Membership on the Web.com Tour for the rest of this year. Guthrie’s check for $86,400 vaulted him to No. 33 on the money list.
--Guthrie turned professional earlier this year after the NCAA Championship. Guthrie won three times during the year and was a Second-Team All-American at Illinois, where he was also a two-time winner of the Big 10 Championship. Guthrie won the 2011 Robert Kepler Intercollegiate tournament on the Scarlet Course here at OSU. Since turning pro, Guthrie has made three PGA Tour starts – tied for 19th at FedEx St. Jude Classic, tied for fifth at John Deere Classic and tied for 18th at the True South Classic – and earned $284,672 in the process.
--For the first time since the tournament started, no amateurs finished in the top-10.
--The Web.com Tour will move to Omaha, Neb., for next week’s Cox Classic presented by Lexus of Omaha at Champions Run.