Australian Gavin Coles carded a 1-over-par 71 in windy conditions Sunday to best Jonas Blixt by one shot and win the Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open.
The victory is the first of the year for Coles on the Nationwide Tour and moves the veteran to No. 15 on the money list entering next week’s season-ending Nationwide Tour Championship at Daniel Island. The top 25 money winners after next week’s finale will earn PGA Tour cards for the 2012 season.
Coles certainly had to earn his fifth career victory on the Nationwide Tour, clipping Blixt on a difficult day for scoring at Dye’s Valley Course at TPC Sawgrass. Wind gusts topped out at 20 mph, leading to a final round scoring average of 71.949 (+1.949). For the week, Dye’s Valley played to an average of 72.368 (+2.368), the highest of the season on the Nationwide Tour.
“The golf course played hard,” Coles said after the victory. “The greens were fast and you had to hit it in the right spots to make birdies. It was a tough test, and having said that, I don’t feel like I played all that well in terms of hitting it close.”
Coles didn’t give himself many birdies chances on the front nine, going out in 1-over 36 with a bogey at the par-4 No. 4, resulting from a wayward drive. Coles dropped a second shot at the par-4 15th, and stood on the 16th tee nursing a one-shot advantage over Blixt. The pair matched birdies on the par 5, Coles’ first of the day, before the 43-year-old from New South Wales took control on the penultimate hole. Coles hit a 7-iron to 30 feet and converted the putt to push his advantage to two with one hole to play.
“It’s funny, I didn’t think I could leave that putt on No. 17 short, and I’d been leaving putts short all day,” Coles remarked. “I just picked my line, hit it out there and it went in.”
The two-shot advantage heading to the last proved critical for Coles, who hit a “bunt” driver into the right rough on the 72nd hole and faced a difficult 40-footer over a ridge. Blixt, who found the fairway, was unable to apply pressure after his approach missed the green to the right.
Coles lagged his approach putt to 6 feet and then watched as Blixt failed to hole out for birdie. Knowing he had two putts for the victory, Coles failed to convert the par attempt, but tapped in for bogey and the one-shot triumph.
“I thought I hit my approach in the right spot and then it rolled all the way down that ridge,” Coles commented. “I hit just a bit of a bump on that second putt. I wasn’t too worried when I knew I had two putts from there to win.”
Coles will look to return to the PGA Tour for the fifth time next week in Charleston. He graduated from the Nationwide Tour in 2002, 2004 and 2006.
With the runner-up finish, his third of the year on the Nationwide Tour, Blixt improves to No. 5 on the money list and will advance to the PGA Tour for the first time in 2012. Though still in search of his first victory, Blixt was able to find a silver lining after the round.
“It’s good to be there on Sunday and get the experience of being under pressure,” said Blixt. “It’s time for me to win and pull one of these out.”
David Lingmerth’s solo third is his best finish on the Nationwide Tour this season in 25 starts, including this week. With the finish he moved to No. 75 on the money list to No. 50, securing his position in the field next week in Charleston.
--Gavin Coles’ victory is his first on the Nationwide Tour since the 2008 Chitimacha Louisiana Open, a span of 53 starts. His five-career victories are tied for third-most in Nationwide Tour history.
--Jonas Blixt collected his third runner-up finish of the season and seventh top 10, tied for second-most on the Nationwide Tour this year (Danny Lee – 8). He is in good shape to advance to the PGA Tour for the first time at No. 5 on the money list.
--With the completion of Sunday’s final round, the top 60 players on the Nationwide Tour money list have advanced to the Nationwide Tour Championship at Daniel Island next week. David Lingmerth (third) and John Kimbell (tied for seventh) played their way into the top 60, while Charles Warren and Andrew Buckle both missed the cut and fell out of the top 60.
--Tim Wilkinson (No. 63) and Brian Stuard (No. 66) barely missed making the field for the Nationwide Tour Championship at Daniel Island despite solid weeks. They finished tied for 11th and tied for seventh, respectively.
--Billy Hurley III is the man on the bubble at No. 25 on the money list entering next week’s Nationwide Tour Championship. He finished tied for 55th at 12 over par this week and is looking to advance to the PGA Tour for the first time in his career.
--The winning score of 6-under-par 274 is the highest of the season on the Nationwide Tour and highest in relation to par since Bill Lunde won the 2008 Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational at 5-under-par 279.
--Tommy Biershenk made five consecutive 3s from No. 12 to No. 16 en route to his round of 69. He finished tied for fourth at 3 under and advances to the Nationwide Tour Championship.
--B.J. Staten fired the low-round of the day Sunday, a 6-under 64, equaling the low round of the tournament. With the 64, Staten jumped from a tie for 54th to a tie for 18th at 2 over. The course record at Dye’s Valley Course is 63, posted by 2010 winner David Mathis in the second round.