Ben Kohles made the most of his pro debut, winning the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational on Sunday in Columbus, Ohio. Here are 5 Things you need to know from a historic week on the Web.com Tour:
1. QUICK LEARNER: Kohles, a three-time All-American at Virginia, is the first player to win a Web.com Tour event in his pro debut. He finished 18th at last week’s Porter Cup, then turned pro upon arriving at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational. He shot 12-under 272 at Ohio State Golf Club’s Scarlet Course to get into a playoff with fellow first-year pro Luke Guthrie, then won with a birdie on the first playoff hole. Both Guthrie and Kohles birdied the 72nd hole to get into the playoff.
“It’s absolutely a dream come true,” said Kohles, who holed a 22-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole. “What more can you ask for in your first pro event than to win? It’s still a bit of shock and I’m not sure it’s all sunk in yet.
“Coming straight out of college I didn’t have any money to my name but I guess I have some now,” he said with a laugh.
The Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational is an important week on the Web.com Tour, and not only because it gives us a glimpse at promising young players. It also has the season’s second-largest purse. The $144,000 winner’s check moved Kohles to 13th on the money list; the top 25 at season’s end earn PGA Tour cards.
Kohles, who won this summer’s Dogwood Invitational, and Guthrie were among a dozen All-Americans given exemptions into the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational. Kohles is the third invited All-American to win this event in its six-year history. Daniel Summerhays (2007) and Harris English (2011) won the event as amateurs. Two other All-American invitees have lost playoffs at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational: Rickie Fowler (2009) and Guthrie (2012).
Kohles, a second-team All-American, didn’t get into the NCHI field until July 16, when Peter Uihlein opted to play in a Challenge Tour event instead. Uihlein finished T-7 in that Challenge Tour event, his third consecutive top-15 on that tour. He’s 51st on the order of merit.
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2. OH, SO CLOSE: Guthrie has a strong record on Ohio State’s Scarlet Course. He finished third there in the 2007 AJGA Rolex Tournament of Champions, the junior circuit’s premiere event. He also won the 2011 Robert Kepler Intercollegiate on the Scarlet. Guthrie didn’t win another title this week, but continued an impressive start to his pro career.
Guthrie, who turned pro in June, finished in the top 20 in his first three PGA Tour starts as a pro, highlighted by a fifth-place finish at the John Deere Classic. This was his first Web.com Tour start as a pro. His second-place check of $86,400 put him at 33rd on the money list and earned him special-temporary membership on the Web.com Tour.
Guthrie almost didn’t play in Columbus. He was offered a spot in this week’s European Tour event, the Lyoness Open in Austria. He had to decline the invitation, though, because weather delays at last week’s True South Classic would’ve made it difficult for Guthrie to arrive in time for Wednesday’s opening round. Guthrie finished 18th at the True South. He’s earned $284,672 in his three PGA Tour starts as a pro.
Guthrie won the past two Big Ten titles, making him the first back-to-back Big Ten champion since Northwestern’s Luke Donald in 2000-01 and first Illini repeat winner since Steve Stricker in 1988-89.
Five of the 12 invited All-Americans, including Kohles and Guthrie, made the cut this week. Blayne Barber, who was making his pro debut, finished 33rd, while amateurs Cory Whitsett and Jordan Spieth finished 44th.
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3. THIRD TIME’S NOT THE CHARM: Casey Wittenberg came close to collecting his third Web.com Tour win of 2012, which would’ve meant an immediate promotion to the PGA Tour. Wittenberg, 27, took the lead with birdies on Nos. 12, 13 and 16, but a bogey on the par-3 17th left him one shot short of the Kohles-Guthrie playoff. He finished at 11-under 273, tying Cliff Kresge for third place.
Wittenberg’s $46,400 check did allow him to overtake Paul Haley for the No. 1 position on the Web.com Tour money list. He’s earned $288,083 this season, approximately $42,000 more than No. 2 Haley. The Web.com Tour’s leading money winner earns a spot in the following year’s Players Championship. Wittenberg also finished 10th at this year’s U.S. Open.
Kresge moved from 126th to 50th on the money list. He’s earned $60,500 this year.
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4. STATUS UPDATE: Kohles and Guthrie weren’t the only players to earn Web.com Tour status on Sunday. Former Penn State player Kevin Foley did so as well. Foley, who started the year on the eGolf Professional Tour, shot a final-round 66 Sunday to finish fifth at 10-under 274. It was his third top-10 in four Web.com starts this year. He now ranks 44th on the money list with $67,984.
Foley, the 2009 Sunnehanna Amateur champion, completed his career at Penn State in 2010. The 25-year-old had a win, runner-up and four other top-10s in 11 eGolf starts this year.
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5. QUITE A RUN: Trevor Murphy loves Ohio State Golf Club. How much? He has the course record on OSU Golf Club’s two courses, the Scarlet and the Gray. He shot 56 on the 5,800-yard, par-70 Gray Course during a 2010 pro-am. He tied the Scarlet course record with a first-round 63 this week. It helped Murphy, who has no Web.com Tour status, continue an impressive recent run.
Murphy finished seventh at the NCHI to earn a third consecutive Web.com Tour start. The top 25 finishers each week earn a start in the following event.
Murphy lost his Web.com Tour status after finishing 102nd on last year’s money list. He Monday qualified for the previous Web.com Tour event, the Utah Championship, and finished 22nd, including a second-round 62, to earn his spot at Ohio State Golf Club. Murphy, who’s earned $28,309 in his two starts this season, needs to earn approximately $15,000 more to regain status.