Thompson balances ledger for US at NZ PGA

BY Bruce Young | Australasian PGA Tour | 2007 NZ PGA Championship | 25 Feb 2007
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The North American contingent balanced the ledger in terms of victories at the New Zealand PGA Championship, when Nicholas Thompson edged out Canadian, David Morland, by making par at the first extra playoff hole after Morland had found the bunker with his approach from the fairway and took bogey.

This co-sanctioned event between the Australasian and Nationwide Tours, has been held now on six occasions. The Australians have won it three times and now the North Americans (Canadian Jim Rutledge won it in 2005) have evened the account with Thompson’s victory.

24-year-old Thompson is on the Nationwide Tour in 2007 after losing his USPGA Tour card after a less than impressive rookie season in 2006. He had promised much when finishing third at the Tour School in 2005 but, like so many who have gone before, the initial season at the higher level can prove quite a task, especially for one so new to professional golf.

Thompson had turned professional in 2005 after a stellar amateur career that included being a member of the winning Walker Cup Team in 2005 and a standout on the Georgia Tech team. He began his 2007 in Panama where he missed the cut but improved last week in Adelaide to finish 39th.

While Thompson’s birdie, birdie, finish today for a final round 68 highlighted just how classy a golfer he is and is expected to become, it was perhaps his round of 70 in Saturday’s horror conditions that set up the win more than anything else.

For Thompson the win will go a long way to ensuring he will return to the PGA Tour in 2008, the earnings this week (US$108,000) taking him more than halfway in terms of the total money he will require by the time the Nationwide Tour Championship comes around in early November to ensure he is inside the now 25 players who will advance to the 2008 PGA Tour.

In the meantime Thompson is deciding just what he might do next week. His victory this week has opened the door for a start at the Johnnie Walker Classic but he had been thinking of returning to the US to try and qualify for the Honda Classic. Surely it is a no-brainer in terms of a decision. The guaranteed chance to play the lucrative Johnnie Walker in Thailand verses the slight chance of qualifying in Florida after a long flight from New Zealand. I should think we will see Thompson in Thailand

Morland, an ex PGA Tour player, also produced a strong finish today, adding two birdies late in his round in what was a bogey free 68 to move into contention for the title. A fine birdie at the 17th took him to 8 under par and he was then forced to wait as Thompson, who was in the group behind him, birdied the 17th and then holed an eight foot putt at the last for another birdie to force the playoff.

Morland’s only top ten in 27 Nationwide Tour starts in 2006 was at this very event when he finished 10th and so despite the loss today he will leave Christchurch with further happy memories of Clearwater Resort.

Michael Letzig is another Nationwide Tour rookie and he too appeared as a possible winner when he birdied his first four holes on the back nine today to take the lead but was unable to secure the one birdie over the closing five holes to hold off the challengers. He finished in a share of third place with Lee Williamson

Williamson is also a Nationwide Tour rookie and he had moved to 8 under today when he birdied the 15th and took the lead but a bogey at the 17th would prove very costly as those behind passed him by and he settled for that share of third behind the playoff pair.

In fifth place alone was Newcastle’s James Nitties who struggled early in his round before turning the corner with a fine birdie at the 8th. He added further birdies at the tough 13th and the par five 14th but like others was unable to secure the extra birdie or two needed to make the difference. For Nitties, however, it was a very encouraging week and his best finish in a Nationwide Tour event. He will head to Louisiana in a month’s time to seek a start there.

So too will the brilliant Jason Day after producing a fine weekend to finish 6th. Day appeared likely to threaten the leaders today when he raced to five under and within two when he birdied his 10th hole but an uncharacteristic and costly mistake at the par four 12th brought the teenager undone. To his credit he fought back after such a gut wrenching error and added birdies at the 14th and 18th to finish in a share of 6th.

Day has only partial status on the Nationwide Tour but this will help in his quest for ongoing starts when the tour heads back to the US.

The round of the day came from a surprise and welcome quarter. Chris Downes’ round of 64 indicated that this talented Queenslander is back on the road to recovery after a horror two years or so in professional golf. A player good enough to have finished runner up to Peter Lonard at the Australian Open over three years ago and several other good finishes, Downes had reached an all time low point in his game but it is understood he has returned to work with one of his earlier coaches, Dave Nable, and there is a strong suggestion that things are getting better. Downes finished 10th.

One man who will rue the last few holes of today’s final round will be the third round leader, Ryan Howison, who had a share of the lead when he birdied the 10th. He came unstuck with bogeys at the 13th, 16th and 17th and eventually finished in a share of 6th.

The Australasian Tour will next play in Thailand at next week’s Johnnie Walker Classic.

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    About the Author: Bruce Young

    A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of the game comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.

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