Johnson Wagner not only knows what he needs to do to make it on the PGA Tour next year, he’s showing he might just be capable of making the leap to the next level this season.
Wagner continued his strong Nationwide Tour season Aug. 6 at the Cox Classic, where his four-stroke victory over Craig Bowden – his second title of the year – moved him to the top of the Nationwide money list and one win away from realizing his goal.
Although he already has his PGA Tour card for 2007 locked up, with one more victory Wagner would earn a battlefield promotion to the PGA Tour for the rest of this season.
“It is a real relief to separate myself a little,” said Wagner, whose first-place winnings of $117,000 moved him from No. 4 to No. 1 in Nationwide earnings, dethroning Tripp Isenhour, who had been atop the money list since early April.
“With our top player (at the end of the year) getting in The Players Championship next year it makes No. 1 very important. Now if I could go ahead and get that third win, I could get on the PGA Tour this year with about 10 events left.”
Wagner’s 21-under 263 was capped off with a final-round 63. Wagner eagled the par-5 17th to extend his lead to four strokes, then rolled in an 18-foot birdie on the last for good measure.
Even runner-up Bowden was impressed with Wagner’s performance.
“Johnson was untouchable today,” Bowden said.
Close call: Craig Bowden, who finished second to Johnson Wagner in Omaha, almost didn’t make the trip.
Bowden’s 14-month-old daughter fell sick earlier in the week, nearly forcing him out of the Cox Classic.
But he stayed, then stuck around leader Johnson Wagner most of the final round Aug. 6 before bogeys on Nos. 14 and 16 derailed his chances at a title. But an 18-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole gave Bowden solo second place and a $70,200 check. “I’m just happy I was able to do what I did on the last hole,” Bowden said. “I’m $70,000 richer and I almost didn’t make it here.”
Returning to form: Australian Bradley Hughes was the leader at the halfway point of the Cox, something he credited to his recent trip to Royal Liverpool.
“I played the British Open, and even though I missed the cut it clicked my brain into gear to hit some different shots instead of flying it in on every hole,” said Hughes, who opened with rounds of 64-66. “It was a great experience for me.”
It was the Aussie’s short game – something that had been costing him in recent tournaments – that helped him climb the board the first two rounds.
“I’ve been threatening some low scores this year but my chipping has been holding me back,” he said. “I’ve played decent but haven’t been able to make any putts or chip it close.”
Hughes, however, fell all the way to a tie for 34th after a third-round 75. He finished with a 67 for a 12-under 272 total, tying for 22nd.
Short shots: Chip Beck posted his first top 10 since the 2002 Wichita Open with a tie for eighth at 15-under 269. The former PGA Tour veteran had missed nine cuts in 11 starts entering the week. . . . Keoke Cotner had a hole-in-one during the first round on hole No. 3. Kevin Stadler’s second round 7-under 29 on the back nine tied the tournament record set by Rob McKelvey in 2001. . . . Jeff Klauk equaled the best birdie-eagle streak in tournament history, going 6 under on Nos. 8-12 with a birdie-eagle-birdie birdie-birdie stretch.
Garrett Willis withdrew following the third round.
On the tee
Next up: Northeast Pennslyvania Classic, Aug. 17-20, Glenmaura National Golf Club, Scranton, Pa. 2005 champion: Greg Kraft.
The buzz: Johnson Wagner will look to continue his dream season at Glenmaura, where he tied for 17th in 2005.