It’s not official yet, but Gary Christian appears to be headed to the PGA Tour. Finally.
Christian fired a 4-under 67 in Sunday’s final round of the Nationwide Tour’s Mylan Classic to finish at 17-under 267 and beat Californian John Mallinger (68) by one stroke.
There are still seven events on the 2011 Nationwide Tour schedule, but the 40-year-old from England picked up a check for $108,000 and moved from No. 27 to No. 4 on the money list. Heady stuff for someone who has yet to tee it up in a Tour event.
“I’m biting my lip a little bit and I might be struggling. I’m not usually at a loss for words but this might be one of those rare occasions,” said an emotional Christian after being told he might have finally punched his ticket to the Tour. “It’s like a dream come true.”
Also making headlines Sunday was Rahil Gangjee of India, who became the third player in Nationwide Tour history to make a hole-in-one on a par-4 hole when he used a driver to ace the 316-yard 15th hole. Gangjee joined Chip Beck (2003 Omaha Classic) and Richard Johnson (2009 Michael Hill New Zealand Open) as the only others to accomplish the feat on Tour.
“I was just trying to get it on the green, that was it. When it’s a driveable hole, you think you can get it close and maybe make eagle, but a hole-in-one, nobody thinks about that.”
The ace was the fourth of Gangjee’s career and his second in competition. His first came several years ago in Thailand, where he aced a par-3 using a 7-iron. Gangjee was 1 over par through 14 holes when he pulled out his driver on 15 tee.
“I wasn’t playing that great and the other day when the tee was up I was on the edge of the green so today I thought I could go for it,” he said. “I thought I saw the ball roll onto the green but I didn’t see it go in and then everyone around the green went nuts.”
The last player to make a hole-in-one on a par-4 on the PGA Tour was Andrew Magee at the 333-yard 17th hole at the 2001 Phoenix Open in Scottsdale.
Craig Bowden (66) and Scott Brown (67) tied for third place at 15-under 269. J.J. Killeen (63), Billy Hurley (69) and defending champion Kevin Kisner (70) shared fifth place, three shots back.
“I think it was meant to be this week,” said Christian, who was never far from the lead. “Walking down the fairway today I was thinking it’s just my time.”
Christian, Mallinger and Kisner began the final round at the Southpointe Golf Club, about 15 miles south of downtown Pittsburgh, tied for the lead at 13 under. Battling some early jitters, Christian popped in three birdies on his first five holes and took sole possession of the lead.
“My hands felt a bit nervy, but I kept knocking it close the first few holes so I didn’t have to battle it too bad,” he said. “I trusted my hands would get it to the hole.”
Christian’s lone poor shot of the day came with an errant tee shot on the long, par-4 sixth hole, where he made bogey. The Auburn graduate then put the driver back in the bag for the day and relied on a steady 3-wood off the tee the rest of the way.
“I was hitting it good all day. I managed my game and never really put myself in any real danger after that,” he said.
Playing partners Mallinger and Kisner, along with several others continued to apply pressure, but Christian never folded his tent. He came close on the par-3 14th, where a bad 8-iron and a flubbed chip left him staring at a possible bogey.
“Under the situation, it was one of those that you’d be happy just to get it up and down,” said Christian, who proceeded to knock it in to stay at 17 under and maintain his lead.
“I was thinking a two-shot swing there, maybe three,” said Kisner. “That was probably the pivotal point.”
All three players then birdied the short, par-4 15th hole, leaving Christian up by one over Mallinger and two over Kisner. Mallinger bogeyed No. 17 to fall two off the lead as they approached the 447-yard 18th.
Kisner, then Mallinger hit their tee shots into the heavy rough down the right side. Christian, though he doesn’t look at scoreboards, figured he had a two-shot lead when the pair “hit it in the vegetables.”
However, it wasn’t over yet.
The “Barman from Wallington” -- as Christian was known during his amateur days in England -- also knocked it down the right side and into a hazard that runs alongside the fairway.
“It’s amazing what adrenaline will do. I hit a 3-wood about 300 yards there,” he said. “It was in the hazard and probably six to eight inches from toppling over into the creek, which would have made for a different story, but those are the breaks you need to win sometimes.”
Mallinger came up short from the rough and Kisner’s gnarly lie produced a second shot that found the hazard in front of the green.
Christian muscled out a wedge to the right side of the green and was about 40 feet from the pin. When Mallinger’s flop shot didn’t go in, Christian had the breathing room he needed.
His putt from the fringe stopped four feet away and when his fourth shot lipped the hole, he still had only a six-inch tap-in for the win, the second of his Nationwide Tour career.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” said Christian, who also held a job in pension administration while tending bar in South London. “The journey has been tougher. It might mean more to me, having left my country and my friends.”
--Gary Christian’s win was his second in the state of Pennsylvania. His first came at the 2009 Northeast Pennsylvania Classic near Scranton. In that event, Christian prevailed in a Tour record-tying 9-hole playoff against Mathias Gronberg.
--Danny Lee of New Zealand bogeyed the final hole for a 9-under 62 and tied the course record. Brad Adamonis shot 62 in Friday’s second round and then Kevin Kisner followed that up with a 62 later in the day. Lee finished the week at 13 under par and tied for eighth. He remains No. 11 on the money list.
--J.J.Killeen used a 6-under 30 on the back nine for an 8-under 63 that left him at 14 under. Killeen, a two-time winner this year, earned enough money to vault back over Australia’s Mathew Goggin and re-take the No. 1 spot on the money list.
--Former Navy Lt. Billy Hurley III posted a final-round 69 and finished tied for fifth, his third top-10 of the year. Hurley has made eight consecutive cuts and posted three top-10s and six top-25 finishes in that stretch. He also jumped 10 spots to No. 19 on the season money list.
--Scott Brown’s tie for third this week moved him up eight spots to No. 12 on the money list.
--John Mallinger, who didn’t qualify for the FedExCup Playoffs, finished second this week after a tie for third at last week’s News Sentinel Open in Knoxville, Tenn. Mallinger has made only four starts on the Nationwide Tour this year and also has a tie for ninth (Stadion Athens Classic) to his credit. His efforts this week moved him from No. 79 to No. 35 on the money list.
--The Nationwide Tour will take next off and return to competition at the Albertsons Boise Open starting Monday, Sept. 12 at the Hillcrest Country Club.