VALDOSTA, Ga. -- A big hitter reigned supreme this week at the longest course to ever host a PGA TOUR-sponsored event. John Kimbell outlasted the field -- and the elements -- on Sunday to capture his first Nationwide Tour title at the inaugural South Georgia Classic.
|INSIDE THE NUMBERS|
|JOHN KIMBELL'S FINAL STATS|
Kimbell fired a 3-under 69 -- he was the only player with a sub-70 score in the final round -- to finish the first-year event at 10-under-par 278, one stroke ahead of Australian Matthew Jones (71).
"I always knew I could do this, but I was starting to wonder if it would ever happen," said Kimbell, who admits baseball is perhaps his best sport and spent five years working for a parcel delivery company before taking golf up seriously at the age of 23. "I couldn't be happier. It's unbelievable to win at this level."
With the par-72 Kinderlou Forest Golf Club already playing at 7,781 yards, the last thing the 70 players who made the cut this week needed to see on Sunday were wind gusts reaching 35 mph. But that is exactly what they got, with the windy conditions forcing the stroke average to 75.229 during the final round.
"The conditions were so tough," said Kimbell, a 38-year-old native of Atlanta, Ga. "I hit the ball solid all week. The wind doesn't seem to affect the ball as much when you're hitting it well."
While 12 players entered the final round within four shots of the lead, the tournament turned into a two-man horse race between Kimbell and Jones. The lead changed hands on several occasions throughout the day -- and despite a double bogey on the par-4 10th hole to relinquish the lead -- Kimbell remained steady with seven pars and a birdie on the par-4 16th hole to win in his ninth career start on the Nationwide Tour.
The victory came on familiar ground for Kimbell, who won his third NGA Hooters Tour title here last September at the Langdale Ford Championship. That familiarity paid dividends this week, as Kimbell finished tied for first in putting (26.8 per round) and tied for 11th in fairways hit in regulation (43 of 56).
"I love this place," said Kimbell, who lists country music legend George Strait as his hero. "I know this golf course, and that is definitely an advantage around here. Last year, for some reason, I knew I was going to win here. I didn't have the exact same feeling at the beginning of this week but I knew I was going to play well. By the weekend I just had a feeling in my gut ... especially the way I was hitting the ball."
The victory, worth $108,000, moves Kimbell from No. 52 to No. 2 on the money list with $126,139 and is further proof that Kimbell is a force to be reckoned with on Tour. It represents his third top-20 finish of the season, and comes on the heels of a then career-best T13 finish two weeks ago at the Livermore Valley Wine Country Championship. That tournament was played at The Course at Wente Vineyards, which ranked as the toughest layout on Tour in 2006 and is the toughest so far this season as well.
"I'm a long hitter, so obviously I like long courses," said Kimbell, who secures Nationwide Tour membership through the 2008 season. "I play good on a lot of different-styled golf courses, but I definitely like longer and harder courses. This is definitely one of those. I finished 13th two weeks ago and that was also a long, hard golf course."
Kimbell's victory denied Jones his first trip into the winner's circle on the Nationwide Tour. It also kept him from becoming the 19th Aussie to win on Tour. He still walked away with a new-found confidence, after having made just one cut in four previous starts this season.
"This season has been a struggle," said Jones, a 26-year-old native of New South Wales, Australia. "I'm kind of disappointed that I finished second, but overall I'm happy because I haven't been playing well. I definitely have more confidence now because I had none before the week started.
Final-Round News & Notes: The cumulative average for the week was 73.549, with the par-4 third hole playing the most difficult at 4.323. The par-5 11th hole was the easiest at 4.730 ... Chez Reavie (T3) posted his second consecutive top-10 finish, having finished T9 at the Livermore Valley Wine County Championship ... Monday Qualifier Paul Dickinson, who held at least a share of the lead the first three days, struggled to a 7-over 79 on Sunday to finish T13 ... There were no bogey-free rounds on Sunday, with the total remaining at 14 for the week ... Todd Demsey, with a T20 finish this week, is the only player on Tour to have made the cut in all six events this year. Jason Caron, D.A. Points and Peter Tomasulo all failed in their bid for a sixth straight made cut ... With Paul Dickinson and Matthew Jones failing to carry the 54-hole lead on to victory, the Nationwide Tour has seen the 54-hole leader win just three of six attempts this season ... The Nationwide Tour stays in the Peach State this week, moving north to the Athens Regional Foundation Classic. Paul Gow won last year's tournament in Athens by three shots over Craig Lile. Those two players were among 36 who played in Valdosta this week who are either committed or on the alternate list for the upcoming PGA TOUR stop in New Orleans.
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