Prugh goes low to snatch NZ Open victory

24-year-old American, Alex Prugh, has won his first Nationwide Tour event with a final round of 64 at the Michael Hill New Zealand Open, enough to secure him a three shot victory over fellow American Martin Piller.

Piller and Prugh have enjoyed dinner together every night this week but it will defintely be Prugh's shout tonight.

Prugh produced a stunning final nine holes of 30 to put distance between himself and what had been a congested leaderboard. While his final nine holes were impressive so too was a pitching wedge from the right rough at the 8th hole for eagle - the catalyst to a recovery from a slow start. Prugh recorded another eagle at the 17th to all but seal the victory after his drive finished in the left rough and a three wood to 25 feet resulted in another eagle.

"I was even par through my first seven holes and I thought I was going to be lapped by everybody and then when I holed my shot at the 8th it was like alright now we can really go. I can't remember the exact yardage there but all I knew was that it was about 119 yards to the front and hit it right there as it was downwind a little bit. I hit a great shot and before you know it bounces a little bit and disappears."

"The only time I really felt comfortable was around the 16th and 17th. I made a great birdie on 16 after having effectively three putted for par at the 15th. I hit a couple of awesome shots on the 17th to 25 feet and made that and now I am feeling pretty good and I tell myself I have just got to get it in play at the 18th."

Prugh, who played his first season on the Nationwide Tour in 2008 when he finished 46th on the moneylist, put the tournament beyond doubt even before the final two groups of the day had completed their rounds. He was able to enjoy the moment as he walked down the 18th green in front of 8000 or so people who had gathered and witnessed the first New Zealand Open victory by an American since Corey Pavin in 1985.

He had to keep the emotions in check however.

"I was a little bit emotional playing the last with all those people cheering for me. I have never really had that before. There have been a couple of events in the States where a lot of people cheer for you if you have a good finish but nothing like numbers this big."

As had been the case with Steve Alker at last week's New Zealand PGA Championship, Prugh led the fairways and greens statistics further highlighting the quality of his golf that was made even more impressive by the fact that he played in the worst side of the draw on Thursday and Friday.

Prugh, who hails from Spokane (Washington), has previously won an event on one of the mini tours in the US in his first season as a professional but this is clearly a career altering victory. It provides him with a minimum of two years exemption on the Nationwide Tour but more importantly it moves Prugh halfway towards a place on the PGA Tour in 2010.

It is generally believed that a figure around US$220,000 will be required to be inside the top 25 who gain a place on the PGA Tour at the end of 2009 for next year and with this victory Prugh moves to US$123,000.

54 hole leader, Piller, started with a birdie but a double bogey at the second threatened to derail his day. He slipped further behind when he bogeyed the 4th but six birdies in his next 10 holes had him back in a share of the lead with Alex Prugh who was playing in the group ahead.

Piller had Prugh in his sights for much of the back nine but being unable to make par at the 15th and a bogey at 16th effectively cost him his chance. He finished runner up three shots behind while yet another American Jim Herman finished alone in third place a further two shots back.

Six players shared 4th position including Craig Parry, Andrew Bonhomme, Peter Senior, Jeff Gove, Stephen Dartnall and the leading New Zealander Josh Geary.

The leading local was Josh Geary who overcame a mid-round struggle to finish in a share of 4th to follow up his runner up finish last week. The impressive two weeks will give him some level of status on the Nationwide Tour but at this stage Geary is still not 100% sure just what that might be.

"I have heard several different things but will be discussing that with the guys (Nationwide Tour) after this I guess."

"This is a really satisfying feeling," added Geary. "It hasn't really sunk in just yet but when I get the chance to think back on it over the next few days it will be a pretty good feeling."

And so it should be as Geary has come of age as a golfer over the past two weeks.

Welshman Richard Johnson won a pallet of Heineken Lager courtesy of a hole in one at the party hole the 15th where, with a driver, he found the bottom of the hole from 310 metres. 1500 bottles will be delivered to Johnson's US home in Fort Smith in Arkansas by Heineken.

"I think every tournament should have a party hole," said Johnson. "This course has two or three places where they could have one but the 15th was perfect for it with the bar and the tables set up around the green. I could not see the ball going in the hole but the crowd let me know. The noise just got increasingly loud as the ball neared the hole."

The Nationwide Tour will play their next event at the Louisiana Open on March 26th while for the Australasian Tour their next event will be the first of the new co-sanctioned Super Series, the Volvo China Open.

Bruce Young
About The Author : Bruce Young

A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of and background in the game of golf comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.

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