Only five events into the Nationwide Tour season, Tripp Isenhour is one victory away from a big-league call-up.
Isenhour won his second title of 2006 four days before his 38th birthday, shooting a final-round 68 April 2 to capture the inaugural Livermore Valley Wine Country Championship. The former Georgia Tech standout, who also won the season-opening Panama Championship in January, finished with a 9-under-par 279 total, three strokes ahead of Paul Sheehan.
Not only is Isenhour a win away from an immediate battlefield promotion to the PGA Tour, but he virtually assured himself of a top-20 finish on this year’s Nationwide money list and therefore a PGA Tour card for 2007. Isenhour moved to No. 1 in Nationwide earnings with $218,221; last season’s No. 20, Jeff Gove, earned $210,674.
Isenhour has been on the PGA Tour three previous seasons (2001-02, ’04), but has never finished above No. 146 on the money list. Last year, he made the cut in only six of 17 Nationwide tournaments, with no top 15s.
“I saw some light at the end of the tunnel but I didn’t think it would come like this,” he said. “It’s amazing for it all to come this quickly. I’m in shock and awe. It’s nice to have enough money at this point that I can play very aggressively from here on out and try to win another one.”
Second- and third-round leader Jeff Quinney struggled much of the final day, finishing with a 3-over 75, making it a two-man race between a pair of 2006 winners. Sheehan, who won the Jacob’s Creek Open in February, birdied five of the first six holes to get to 10 under and take a three-stroke lead over Isenhour and Quinney.
Isenhour, however, didn’t panic. He stayed close on Sheehan’s heels, then finally caught him at the par-5 15th, making an 8-foot birdie putt to tie Sheehan, who made bogey.
Two holes later, at the par-4 17th, there was another huge swing, as Sheehan’s drive found the hazard and he ended up with double bogey. Isenhour put his 6-iron approach to 10 feet and made the birdie putt for a three-stroke lead going to thefinal hole.
Up and down week: Jeff Quinney played flawlessly the first two rounds, hitting 26 of 28 fairways and
31 of 36 greens in regulation, but the weekend was a roller-coaster ride for the 2000 U.S. Amateur champion.
After opening with 5-under 67, then making birdie on four of his final five holes Friday for a 4-under 68 and a four-shot lead through 36 holes, Quinney finished 74-75. His driver wasn’t nearly as consistent the final two rounds, and he discovered what the rest of the field had been experiencing in the gnarly rough at The Course at Wente Vineyards.
“I found out what these guys have been talking about,” he said after hitting the fairway eight of 14 times in Round 3. “I drew some horrific lies.”
“I think I was a little cautious out there with that four-shot lead to start and not trying to make the big number.”
Still, Quinney is off to a much better start than in 2005, when he missed 11 of his first 12 cuts. His third place at Livermore Valley matched his best Nationwide finish since his victory at the 2004 Oregon Classic.
Short shorts: David Gossett tied for 49th. It was his best finish in a PGA Tour or Nationwide event since a T-39 at the 2003 Funai Classic at Walt Disney World. Since 2004, Gossett has missed 26 of 28 PGA Tour cuts and nine of 11 Nationwide cuts. . . . Former Stanford standout Joel Kribel, who grew up just a short drive away from The Course at Wente Vineyards, played on a sponsor exemption and finished T-13 in his first Nationwide event of the year. The 1997 U.S. Amateur runner-up earned a spot in the Athens, Ga., event April 20-23. . . . Johnson Wagner, who won the previous week in Louisiana, tied for fourth for his second consecutive top-5 finish. . . . Jason Dufner established a course record with
a 7-under 65 in the final round. . . .
Bob May aced the 170-yard 11th hole Sunday for the second hole-in-one in as many days on the hole. May used an 8-iron. On Saturday, Brendon De Jonge aced the downhill par 3 from 181 yards, also with an 8-iron. . . . Lift, clean and place conditions were in effect for all four rounds, and rounds 1 and 2 were suspended because of heavy afternoon rains. On Friday, temperatures never got above 60 and winds occasionally gusted to 30 mph. . . . Mick Soli was disqualified after Round 1 because of an incorrect scorecard. . . . Tom Hearn, assistant director of the Nebraska PGA Section and a former Nationwide Tour pro, has joined the tour as a rules official.
– Staff and wire reports
On the tee
Next up: Athens Regional Foundation Classic, April 20-23, Jennings Mill Country Club, Bogart, Ga. Defending champion: New event.