By Joe Chemycz, PGA TOUR Staff
Midland, Texas — Garrett Willis held steady on Sunday and slowly put away the field at the Nationwide Tour’s WNB Golf Classic. The 35-year old fired a final-round 68 at Midland Country Club to finish at 20-under par 268, one shot better than Chad Collins, who had blistered the course earlier with a 10-under-par 62.
“It’s an almost surreal feeling,” Willis said. “I was kind of expecting this grand explosion of emotion and I suppose that will come at some point. This is our job and what we set out to do each year.”The win is the second for Willis and the first since he captured the 2005 Envirocare Utah Classic. More importantly, he picks up a check for $94,500 which assures him of a return trip to the PGA TOUR next year. Willis jumps 13 places to No. 6 on the money list and raises his season total to $261,506, more than enough to assure him of a place among “THE 25” top money-winners at the end of the year who will graduate to the TOUR.
Willis owned a two-stroke lead to begin the final round but by the time he teed off, Collins was already 9-under through 13 holes and was leading by two. When Collins two-putted for par to close out his 62, Willis was making birdie at No. 4 to regain a share of the lead at minus-19.
“I knew, being in the lead, I was going to be in the driver’s seat all day. I didn’t think the biggest challenge would come from the final groups,” said Willis. “I thought somebody would come from way behind us. Typically, guys go low early. There isn’t any pressure and they can just fire away. Somebody always posts something low.”
Willis bogeyed No. 5 and was trailing by one. He saved par with a 10-foot putt at the par-3, 8th hole and then tapped in a short birdie at No. 9 to pull even with nine to go.
“I do watch the leaderboards but I didn’t see too many early on,” he said. “I saw the one at number nine and knew Chad was in the house at 19. I felt like if I just stayed patient I’d make a couple of birdies. I knew that if I could shoot one-under on the back I’d be fine.”
So, while Willis headed for the back nine and Collins waited to learn his fate, the rest of the field was treading water.
Darron Stiles put on a late rush with a 6-under 30 on the back nine for a a 66 and a 17-under total.
Jin Park closed out a bogey-free 66 to tie Stiles for third, his career-best finish on Tour.
Willis’ nearest challengers to start the day, J.J. Killeen and Brendan Steele were both struggling and never put any pressure on the leader. They both posted 1-under 71s and tied for seventh.
Willis moved in front with back-to-back birdies at Nos. 12 and 13. A “rope-hook 5-wood” off the tee at No. 17 put him in trouble at No. 17. His second shot caught a low-hanging branch and he wound up making bogey, reducing his lead to one.
“I really didn’t think my nerves were too bad today,” he said. “Usually I can get pretty jumpy but I just tried to stay calm, walk slow and talk slow. I was pretty calm out there, especially for me.”
Willis was barely off the front of the green at the par-4, 18th and needed two putts to close out the win.
“There was no way that first putt was going past the hole,” he said of his 35 footer. “When I walked up there I knew I wanted to leave it a little short and right, right up the hill.”
Mission accomplished. He left himself three feet of green to win.
“I never thought about winning the golf tournament until the last hole,” he said. “It wasn’t a gimme but I felt no pressure over it.”