Nationwide Tour rookie Nate Smith rolled in a 35-foot birdie putt on the final hole Sunday to fire a 6-under 66 and come from behind to win the WNB Golf Classic by two strokes over Venezuelan Fabian Gomez, Texan Brandt Jobe and Australian Alistair Presnell. Smith finished at 18-under 270 to collect his first victory since turning professional in 2006.
“I don’t know whether to cry or just scream -- I’m just flooded with emotion right now,” said the 2006 Duke graduate. “The first thing that comes to mind is all of the hard work and everything I’ve done to get to this point.
“To be able to come through in the clutch like that is the best feeling in the world,” he added. “To have a putt on the 18th hole to win was just an amazing feeling and to make it was awesome.”
Smith’s first career win was worth $94,500 and vaulted him from No. 78 to No. 25 on the money list with five tournaments left on the schedule. The 25 leading money winners at the end of the year will earn a spot on the PGA Tour next year.
Smith entered the final round at Midland Country Club at 12 under and two strokes back of Darron Stiles, who birdied the second hole to move to 15 under. Smith birdied the first hole but quickly gave it back at the par-5 second hole.
“I hit my tee shot into the mesquite and we heard a rattlesnake in there, so we peeled out of there pretty quickly and chose to play my provisional,” he said. “I ended up making a birdie on my second ball but a bogey overall. After that I hit the ball consistently where I had to be, giving myself flat putts. I was lucky my putter heated up – Black Magic I call her – she made her way back in the bag this week so she’ll be in there for a while now.”
After making bogey on the second hole, Smith went on to birdie five of the next eleven holes and climb to 17 under, tied with Jobe. Despite being tied for the lead, there wasn’t much breathing room. Presnell, who finished his round about an hour and a half before the leaders came in, posted a 7-under 65 to take the clubhouse lead at 16 under. Gomez matched Presnell at 16-under a few moments later and when Jobe lipped out for par on the last hole to join them things were starting to look like a playoff would decide this year’s champion.
Smith, playing in his 23rd event of the year, had sole possession of the lead standing over his approach shot on the 18th hole when Jobe missed his 10-foot putt for par. But Smith had his work cut out for him. He was 221-yards from the green in the rough with overhanging trees blocking his view to the green. His options were to play a sweeping slice or try and start it right of the green and hook it back.
“I saw a little gap to the right and asked Brian (his caddie) if there was out of bounds over there,” said Smith, who by virtue of his win locks up a spot in the Nationwide Tour Championship at Daniel Island. “We couldn’t really tell if there was or not so I just swung it out about 30 yards right and it came down on it (the pin) about 35 feet from the hole – it was the best result we could have expected. We looked at each other and said let’s have some fun out here today.”
Smith, who led the field in birdies this week with 24, needed just two putts from 35 feet to claim the largest paycheck of his career but he didn’t know that until moments before he hit the birdie putt.
“I didn’t look at a scoreboard all day, which was my goal,” he said. “It’s hard because they put them (scoreboards) all over the place. I had my head down all day and as we were walking down the fairway on the last hole and I told my caddie now is probably a good time to tell me.”
The Santa Cruz, Calif., resident, who played in Europe last year because he didn’t have any status on the PGA Tour or Nationwide Tour, secured his 2011 Nationwide Tour card and puts him in great position to finish inside the top 25 and earn his 2011 PGA Tour card.
“This is my greatest accomplishment,” said Smith. “I feel like I’m good enough to play on the PGA Tour but at the same time coming out here and playing on the second-best Tour in the world is a blessing in disguise. If I make it to the PGA Tour at the end of the year I know I’ll be better equipped.”
Final-Round Notes: Sunday’s scoring average was 71.033. … Six-time PGA Tour winner Steve Pate had the best birdie-eagle streak in tournament history on Sunday. Pate, who won the Nationwide Tour’s Pacific Rubiales Bogota Open earlier this year in Colombia, birdied Nos. 1-3 then eagled the par-5 fourth hole to jump to 5 under through four holes. He then bogeyed Nos. 8 and 9 to shoot 3-under 33 on the front nine, and eventually finished with a 69. … Jhonattan Vegas equaled the tournament record for best back-nine hole score when he shot 6-under 30 en route to posting a final-round 65, the low round of the day. He came into Sunday 38 and finished tied for 11th.
Two-time 2010 winner Tommy Gainey tied for fifth and remains No. 3 on the money list. Gainey also aced the 207-yard, par-3 eighth hole with a 7-iron. … Two-time 2010 winner Hunter Haas tied for 48th to maintain his position on the money list at No. 4. … Major Manning, playing in his ninth event, made his second cut of the year and tied for 30th. … The 16th hole had a birdie-for-30 promotion this weekend. For every birdie, the fans could buy a beer for a $1 for 30 minutes. Twenty-three birdies were recorded on Saturday and Sunday. … Brett Lederer played his way into next week’s Soboba Classic by tying for eighth. He earned the largest paycheck of the year, $15,224.