J.J. Killeen’s game of cat-and-mouse lasted through most of Sunday’s final round of the Cox Classic, but in the end the 29-year old Texan had just enough left to hold off all of his challengers and collect his second Nationwide Tour title in as many weeks.
Killeen two-putted from 90 feet on the 72nd hole to prevent a five-man playoff and add more hardware to his suddenly bulging trophy case. The former TCU standout eased a downhill, 5-footer into the cup for par and a one-stroke victory.
Killeen shot a final-round 69 at Champions Run to finish at 22 under par, the same winning score he had at last week’s Utah Championship, one shot better than Jonas Blixt, Ken Duke, Gary Christian and former U.S. Amateur champion Danny Lee.
“It feels awesome,” said Killeen, who collected a check for $130,500 and moved to No. 2 on the money list. “What a difference two weeks makes.”
Killeen had just cracked the top 25 two weeks ago but now becomes the first player on Tour to win in consecutive weeks since Jason Gore back in 2005. Instead of wondering if he’d make it to the PGA Tour in 2012, his place among the 25 top money winners who graduate at the end of the year is assured.
“Two weeks ago I was sitting 25th and knew I had the game and my goal was to finish in the top 25,” he said. “Obviously now I’m in a great spot, but every dollar is important and every spot on the money list is important out here. I don’t have any plans to lay low.”
Killeen posted scores of 64-63 and held a four-shot lead after 54 holes in the birdie barrage that takes place in Omaha every summer. Those in pursuit knew they would need some help if they were to catch the circuit’s hottest player. Killeen had run off 15 consecutive sub-par rounds and made it clear he wanted to keep the pedal to the metal for Sunday’s finish.
“I have to admit I was a little bit nervous at the start, but it was still a good kind of nervous,” he said. “There were a ton of guys going low and I just tried to hang in there. I was fortunate to start the day with a big enough lead.”
Killeen hit solid shots but missed enough fairways and putts to start the day to give the contenders hope. He was 1 over through 13 holes and suddenly in a battle.
“I knew somebody in front of me was going to take it deep, but I wasn’t too nervous because there are so many birdie opportunities,” he said. “My game plan wasn’t going to change. I needed to make birdies coming in.”
Killeen was struggling like a pitcher who couldn’t get his fastball over the plate.
“It was so tight there for a while and I really didn’t have my best stuff,” he admitted. “I was trying to hang tough. I knew it was still anybody’s tournament at the end.”
He turned the day around with a 9-iron from 140 yards at No. 14 that settled inches from the cup. He stuffed a 5-iron at the par-3 16th to within a foot and then chipped to five feet at the par-5 17th, giving him three birdies when he absolutely needed it.
The latter broke a deadlock at 21 under and gave him the lead again, but he still wasn’t done.
Blixt was at 21 under and waiting in the clubhouse. The former Florida State All-American birdied his final hole Friday to make the cut on the number and then blitzed the field with weekend rounds of 63-64.
Christian, celebrating his 40th birthday with a pair of eagles, including one at No. 17, couldn’t coax his birdie putt at No. 18 into the cup and wound up with a 6-under 65 and minus-21.
Duke hung tough all day and watched as his birdie putt from 18 feet burned the edge of the cup on the final hole. He settled for a 66 and a share of second.
“I knew I had to suck it up and make par there,” said Killeen of the final hole.
His tee shot wound up on the cart path to the left, forcing him to drop in the rough. He was 150 yards away and his 9-iron came up well short.
“When I try to make the putt it’s usually my best putt. When I try to two-putt it can go anywhere,” he said. “I didn’t take a lot of time over it. I had my line. I wasn’t going to sit there and analyze something for an hour. I knew exactly what I wanted to do.”
Lee, the former U.S. Amateur champion who was in the final group with Killeen, drained a 15-footer for birdie to tie the clubhouse leaders and set the stage for Killeen’s all-or-nothing closer.
“I knew exactly what it did and it was just a matter of executing,” said the winner. “It was left-center. As soon as I putted it, it was rolling slow but right towards the middle. I knew it was going in.”
--J.J. Killeen has been on a blistering pace since missing the cut at the BMW Charity Pro-Am in May. Since then, he has made eight straight cuts and earned three top-5 finishes. In that stretch he also has a stroke average of 68.25 for his last 32 rounds, 28 of which have been below par. He has now posted 16 consecutive rounds under par and his scoring average for that stretch is 67.125.
--Killeen becomes the 12th player in Tour history to register wins in consecutive starts. The last to do it was Nick Flanagan, who won the 2007 Henrico County Open and the BMW Charity Pro-Am. He is the sixth player in Tour history to win in consecutive weeks. The last to do it was Jason Gore at the 2005 National Mining Association Pete Dye Classic and the Scholarship America Showdown.
--Danny Lee had only one bogey during the week and it came on his third hole Thursday morning. Lee played the final 69 holes bogey-free. His birdie putt at No. 18 gave him a share of second place, his fifth top-10 finish in nine starts this year. Lee moved up from No. 19 to No. 10 on the money list.
--Jonas Blixt made the 36-hole cut on the number Friday when he two-putted from 50 feet for birdie at the 315-yard ninth hole. Blixt hit driver off the tee and then tapped in for birdie from one foot to get to 6 under par and play the weekend. He played the final 56 holes without a bogey.
--Gary Christian had two eagle, the first at the par-5 10th hole and the second at the par-5 17th.
--Russell Knox, winner of the Chiquita Classic three weeks ago, fired a 3-under 68 but wound up tied for seventh. Knox led the field in both fairways hit (48 of 56/85.7%) and greens in regulation (66 of 72/91.7%). Knox remained No. 7 on the money list.
--Matt Davidson’s solo sixth is his fifth top-10 of the year. Davidson moved from No. 27 to No. 17 on the money list.