Steve Friesen started the week with a phone call from a friend who told him he’d earned a berth in the 22nd annual Price Cutter Charity Championship. He finished it with a trophy and a winner’s check.
The 34-year-old Nebraska native shot an 8-under 64 in Sunday’s final round to pull away from the field and earn his first career title. Friesen birdied four of the final five holes, including the last three, for a 26-under 262 total and a five-shot win over hard-charging Australian Gavin Coles (66).
Paul Claxton (66), Cliff Kresge (67), Ted Potter, Jr. (67), Josh Broadaway (69) and third-round co-leader Travis Hampshire (70) shared third place, six back of the winner.
“It’s been a magical week,” said Friesen, whose tie for 49th at last week’s Cox Classic in Omaha was enough to get him into this week’s field. “I feel like I belong.”
Two weeks ago Friesen hadn’t made a start on the Nationwide Tour. After picking up an oversized check for $112,500 he is now No. 23 on the money list. The 25 leading money winners at the end of the year will earn PGA Tour cards for 2012.
Friesen started the season on a Minor Medical Exemption but hadn’t gotten a start until he was a sponsor’s pick last week. The money earned ($2,411) wasn’t much but moved him far enough up the list to qualify for this week. He was out playing a pro-am on Monday when a friend, who checked the Internet, called him with the good news.
Friesen took it from there. He blitzed the Highland Springs Country Club course with a 10-under 62 in the opening round to take the lead by two strokes. A pair of 68s left him at 18 under and sharing the lead with Hampshire, while the leaderboard was stacked behind them.
“There are so many great players on this tour that I knew I had to go real low today,” said Friesen, who became the fourth winner in the past five years to post a 26-under total. “When you have an opportunity like this, you want to take advantage of it.”
Friesen managed only one birdie in his first six holes and was in a battle for the lead with several challengers. Birdies at 7, 8 and 11 gave him a little breathing room over Broadaway, who was one group in front. Another at 14 gave him a cushion and then he put the hammer down with a trio of birdies to distance himself from the rest.
“I wanted to stay strong at the end,” he said. “I didn’t want to just hover. I know that you can’t force anything.”
Hampshire and Broadaway had the best chances but managed only seven birdies between them and failed to put serious pressure on Friesen who was canning birdies and saving pars. His Sunday scorecard featured eight birdies and required only 24 putts. His only bogey of the week came on his back nine in round two.
“The putter was the difference this week,” he said after a small change put him a little more upright over the ball. “It just clicked. I rolled it well and that’s what it takes out here.”
--Steve Friesen becomes the tour’s fifth consecutive first-time winner and the eighth of the year. Other first-time champions this year: Ted Potter, Jr., Russell Henley, Steve Wheatcroft, Erik Compton, Russell Knox, Harris English, and J.J. Killeen. Friesen also becomes the 13th player in the tournament’s 22-year history to record his first career win at this event and the first since Doug LaBelle won in 2006.
--Friesen becomes the seventh 54-hole leader/co-leader to go on to win the tournament and the fourth in the past five years. He joins Tom Scherrer (2007), Colt Knost (2008) and Hunter Haas (2010) as the most recent to hold on for a win. Friesen’s previous best finishes were a tie for seventh at the 2009 HSBC New Zealand PGA Championship and a tie for ninth at the 2007 Livermore Valley Wine Country Championship.
--Josh Broadaway’s tie for third matches the best finish of his career. This was his 154th career start, and he tied for third at the 2008 Miccosukee Championship and also at the 2010 Fort Smith Classic. Broadaway salvaged par on the par-5 18th after dunking his second shot in the water, and the 6-foot par putt was worth $28,187. The money moved Broadaway from No. 26 to No. 12 on the money list.
--It’s too bad Australia’s Gavin Coles can’t take the 542-yard 18th hole with him each week. Coles rolled in a 4-foot eagle putt at the par-5 hole Sunday -- the third time he has eagled the hole this week. He made a 12-footer for eagle on Thursday and an 18-footer for eagle on Friday. He settled for birdie in the third round after missing his 12-foot putt for eagle.
--Justin Bolli’s 8-under 64 is the best final-round score of his career. His previous low was a 7-under 65, which he posted at the 2004 Chattanooga Classic and then again at the 2006 Chattanooga Classic.
--Paul Claxton’s tie for third is his first top-10 of the year, as he shot a 66 to wind up at 20 under par. His previous best this year was a tie for 15th at the Rex Hospital Open. He also moved up from No. 57 on the money list to No. 43.
--Lefty Ted Potter Jr. rebounded from three bogeys in his first five holes to shoot a 5-under 67. Potter, winner of the South Georgia Classic, had dropped to 13 under after a bogey at No. 5. He rallied with birdies at Nos. 7, 8, 9, 11, 13, 17 and 18.to move back up in the standings. He finished 20 under and tied for third, and moved up one spot on the money list to No. 8.