This was the year of the party crashers on the Web.com Tour. Three players – Luke Guthrie, Ben Kohles and Morgan Hoffmann – earned PGA Tour cards after starting the year with no status. Their feat had to please the PGA Tour because the Web.com will be the sole source of PGA Tour cards in 2013. This trio proved that outsiders can play their way into Tour cards.
Guthrie, Kohles and Hoffmann made the most of their limited opportunities. Guthrie almost won the money list in just 10 starts, winning twice and finishing in the top-10 seven times. He also had three top-20s on the PGA Tour, including a fifth-place finish at the John Deere Classic. Kohles became the first player to win on the Web.com Tour in his pro debut when he beat Guthrie in a playoff at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational; Kohles won the following week to clinch a Tour card in a fortnight. Hoffmann used a third-place finish in the season finale, the Web.com Tour Championship, to jump into the money list’s top 25 and earn his card. He made 12 of 13 cuts and finished in the top-10 in seven of his final 10 starts; he also tied for 29th at this year’s U.S. Open.
Here’s a look at 10 players to remember from this year’s Web.com Tour:
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1. Luke Guthrie
The Illinois All-American impressed immediately after turning pro in June. He was in the top-20 in his first three PGA Tour events. His focus then switched to the Web.com Tour, where he was runner-up in his debut at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational. He earned enough money there to earn Web.com Tour status. He was in the top-10 in his first four Web.com Tour starts, missed a cut, and then won back-to-back starts. Guthrie finished second on the money list in just 10 starts. His two victories tied for the most on tour and his seven top-10s were third-best. He did all this while finishing his final semester at Illinois.
Guthrie is in good company. He won the 2011 and 2012 Big Ten Championships, the first player to do so since Luke Donald and the first Illini to accomplish the feat since Steve Stricker.
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2. Casey Wittenberg
Wittenberg was runner-up at the 2003 U.S. Amateur and finished 13th at the following year’s Masters. He turned pro in 2004 after one year at Oklahoma State, but in spite of his potential has been on the PGA Tour for just one season (2009). He’ll return next year after winning the Web.com Tour money list, an honor that guarantees him a start at next year’s Players Championship. Wittenberg earned his first two Web.com Tour victories this year. He also finished 10th at this year’s U.S. Open.
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3. Camilo Benedetti
The Colombian who preceded Camilo Villegas at the University of Florida endured another near-miss in his quest for his first PGA Tour. Benedetti finished 26th on the money list, just $940 short of the No. 25 position. He missed his card by a shot at Q-School in 2010 after making bogey on the final hole. He was in fourth place through two rounds of the 2011 Web.com Tour Championship before shooting 74-73 to finish fifth at 4-under 284, three shots away from earning a PGA Tour card.
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4. Ben Kohles
The former Virginia All-American wasn’t planning on turning pro until after this year’s U.S. Amateur, but then he got an 11th-hour invitation to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational. He went on to become the first player to win on the Web.com Tour in his pro debut. He also won the following week, and finished eighth on the money list.
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5. Russell Henley
He won on the Web.com Tour as an amateur in 2011, but his rookie season didn’t get off to a great start. He’d earned just $20,108 by mid-July. The 2010 Golfweek College Player of the Year finished with four consecutive top-6 finishes, including two victories, to finish third on the money list. Both of Henley’s wins came in playoffs. He earned $282,550 – 70.6 percent of his season earnings – in those final four weeks.
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6. Luke List
The 2004 U.S. Amateur runner-up drove for show, but also earned plenty of dough on this year’s Web.com Tour. He led the tour in driving distance (324.0 yards per tee shot), and was fourth in earnings after one win and three runners-up.
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7. Morgan Hoffmann
He was a first-team All-American when he left Oklahoma State after the 2011 NCAA Championship, but failed to advance out of Q-School’s second stage and started this season without status. He used Monday qualifiers and sponsor exemptions to get 13 starts, and finished in the top-10 seven times. He clinched a PGA Tour card with a third-place finish at the Web.com Tour Championship.
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8. Lee Williams
Williams was a two-time Walker Cup participant while at Auburn, but several close misses at Q-School’s second stage had kept him off the Web.com Tour for the past few years. His victory at this year’s Mexico Open was the 30-year-old’s first on the Web.com Tour. He’ll be a PGA Tour rookie next year.
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9. Paul Haley
Haley has moved quickly through the pro ranks after winning the 2011 ACC Championship at Georgia Tech. He advanced to Q-School finals later that year to earn Web.com Tour status, then won in the third event of his rookie season. Haley clinched his card in just 10 events, collecting a win and two runners-up in that span.
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10. Shawn Stefani
The Lamar alum, who turned pro in 2005, had played just one Web.com Tour event before this season. The 31-year-old seemed right at home there this year, though, winning twice to finish sixth on the money list. He’ll be a PGA Tour rookie in 2013. He also finished 36th at this year’s Houston Open on the PGA Tour.