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Martin lands at McGladrey as a new man

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – He wasn’t working on very much sleep, but Ben Martin really didn’t seem to mind as he opened a mid-afternoon practice round at the McGladrey Classic by smashing a couple of 3-woods down the first fairway.

It had taken him a full day of travel and a couple of time zones to get from Las Vegas to Sea Island, one city a haven of glitter and lights, the other a sleepy little seaside town on the Georgia coast. The two tournament venues are as contrasting as Ben Martin the PGA Tour player before Sunday in Vegas, and Ben Martin the newly minted PGA Tour winner.

Breaking through for one’s first PGA Tour triumph can do that to a guy. On Tuesday, as players began to file into Sea Island for the third tournament of the Tour’s Fall Series, Martin, 27, still was walking on air.

For winners on Tour, the perks are many. A spot in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua. Starts in the invitationals. Tee times opposite other Tour winners. And oh, yes, a start at Augusta in April, which is only an hour from where Martin grew up, in Greenwood, S.C. He played in the tournament once, in 2010, after losing in the final of the previous summer’s U.S. Amateur. So many good perks … and he doesn’t know where to start in ranking them.

“There’s a sense of comfort to know I don’t have to worry about keeping my card for next year,” said Martin, who is starting his third season on the PGA Tour. He’s now exempt through 2015, and then two more seasons. “Whenever you can play more relaxed … for me, I know I’ll play better. And for me, getting back to Augusta is special. I’m looking forward to that week already.”

Martin won the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open on Sunday by two shots, outlasting a charging Kevin Streelman. Martin struggled a bit on Sunday, when he admittedly was nervous down the stretch. He made a 46-footer for eagle at TPC Summerlin’s 16th hole and didn’t want to look at leaderboards. He didn’t ask where he stood until he hit his second shot onto the green at the par-4 18th, then turned to his caddie and asked, “Do I need to do anything special here?”

He did not. For good measure, he drained one last birdie.

“I was pretty nervous,” Martin said on Tuesday. “I guess most guys would be, going for their first win on Tour. I tried to walk slow and not really rush anything. That’s kind of my personality. My pace is more laid back, so that’s what I tried to keep doing, to stay as calm as I could.”

Martin accomplished what everyone else is looking to do in the Tour’s handful of fall events, five of which are played in the U.S., with two played in Asia. The poster child for getting off to a hot fall start is Jimmy Walker, who a year ago, in the Tour’s first tango with a wraparound schedule, played four times, had a victory (Frys.com) and two other top-12 finishes, and banked $1.3 million and a pile of FedEx Cup points. He carried that momentum into January with victories at Sony and Pebble Beach, and he was a fixture atop the FedEx Cup standings into the playoffs.

“Winning isn’t everything,” said veteran Stuart Appleby, who is trying to hold on to the momentum of a runner-up finish at Barclays to start the playoffs. He smiled. “But it sure is (bleeping) nice.”

Martin is discovering that, even though his last 48 hours had been a whirlwind. After he won, he spent about two more hours at TPC Summerlin fulfilling media obligations, then visited the volunteer tent for another hour. As he and his wife headed in a cart back toward their car, pretty much wiped out, “all we wanted to do was go back to the hotel, order room service and have a couple of beers.”

Then the alarm sounded at 4:30 a.m., and his next adventure awaited. He didn’t arrive on Sea Island until Monday evening.

Now that he has won, something that is very difficult to do on the PGA Tour, Martin vows not to get complacent. He realizes he has an opportunity to make this season special.

“It’s all stepping stones,” he said. “I’m definitely moving in the direction I want to go in, finishing third three times last year and giving myself opportunities on Sunday. That’s all I want to have, a chance to win.

“You need to give yourself chances to do it before you break through. And I’m thinking that the first one (victory) is probably the hardest. I just want to keep getting better and see where it takes me.”

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