2006: Na dominates in PGA warmup

Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.

Local resident Kevin Na was planning to use the Mark Christopher Charity Classic only as a tune-up. Instead, he turned it into a victory celebration.

Na, playing on his home course, shot 2-under-par 69 Oct. 8 to finish at 16-under 268 for a three-shot victory and his first Nationwide Tour title.

Na, 23, used the event as a rehab assignment before he makes his first PGA Tour start in nearly six months at this week’s Frys.com Open in Las Vegas. The victory proves Na is ready to return and compete on the PGA Tour after withdrawing from the Shell Houston Open in late April because of complications from a hand injury suffered in January.

Na broke his hand in a car-door accident. Instead of taking his doctor’s advice following the injury, Na tried to play through the pain – eventually making nine starts on the PGA Tour before calling it quits in Houston. He is No. 213 ($114,442) on the PGA Tour money list.

“It was stupid to try and play after that (hand injury),” said Na. “I was taking so many painkillers. I finally got to the point where I knew if I kept playing my future was going to be bad. I’m excited to be back. I’ll play next week in Vegas and then in Tampa and then I’ll have 20 tournaments next year to keep my card.

“The layoff was frustrating because I wanted to play, but what can you do? But it freshened me up mentally and I think that is why I played so well this week. This is a big confidence boost for me. People don’t realize how good the Nationwide Tour is. I believe it will become easier to win now.”

From the start, it was all Na. He stormed to the lead in Round 1 with a course record-tying 62. Na moved to a tour record-tying six-shot lead at the halfway point. Despite seeing that lead trimmed to one heading into the final round, Na played steady – if not spectacular – golf Sunday to fend off all challengers and collect $90,000.

Na’s only mistake Sunday was an uncharacteristic three-putt double bogey on the par-5 18th hole that trimmed his five-shot lead to three.

“I kind of lost my focus on that last hole,” said Na, who missed the cut here in 2001 in his only other Nationwide Tour start. “I knew I had won the golf tournament. I was just trying to get more air time.”

Na became the tour’s first wire-to-wire winner since Chris Nallen won the 2004 Gila River Classic.

Bubble chase: With only three full-field events remaining, the race for the top 20 (PGA Tour cards) and top 60 (Nationwide Tour Championship) is in the final stretch.

Jarrod Lyle (missed cut) holds the No. 20 spot ($182,990), only $3,334 ahead of John Merrick. No players moved into the top 20, but Jeff Quinney (T-2) moved from No. 8 to No. 3.

Chris Tidland’s tie for second all but secured his spot in the season finale Nov. 9-12 at Houstonian Golf & Country Club. Tidland’s $44,000 payday moved him from No. 92 to No. 54. Winner Kevin Na jumped right onto the money list at No. 60 ($90,000). Deane Pappas (T-11) moved up four spots to No. 61, only $2,586 behind Na.

David Hearn (DNP, dropped from No. 58 to 62), Stephen Marino (T-38, dropped from No. 60 to 63) and Gary Christian (MC, dropped from No. 61 to 64) all are on the outside.

Short shots: The tour has added the Melwood Prince George’s County Open to its 2007 schedule. The $600,000 event will be held May 24-27 at The Country Club of Woodmore in Mitchellville, Md. . . . Jeff Quinney and Ken Duke posted their tour-leading eighth top-10 finishes of the season. . . . Kevin Na is the 14th first-time winner in 27 events this year. . . . Ricky Barnes (T-27) made the cut on the number, his 19th consecutive made cut. . . . Chris Baryla aced the 186-yard 17th hole with a 7-iron and won a Hummer H2 courtesy of tournament sponsor Mark Christopher Auto Center. . . . Mike Perez was disqualified for missing his second-round starting time.

– Staff and wire reports

On the tee

Next up: PalmettoPride Classic, Oct. 19-22, Daniel Island Club (Ralston Creek), Charleston, S.C. Defending champion: New event.

The buzz: First-year tournament offers $90,000 to winner. Top payouts could go a long way toward securing someone’s a PGA Tour card as this is the season’s next-to-last full-field event.

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