RALEIGH, N.C. -- As the Nationwide Tour celebrates its 20th year, two players who were there at the beginning battled down the stretch at the 2009 Rex Hospital Open. In the end, Kevin Johnson bested Jeff Gallagher on the first playoff hole for his fifth career win.
Johnson started the day atop the leaderboard, three shots ahead of Gallagher, who was tied for fourth. Five groups ahead of Johnson in the Sunday pairings, Gallagher charged up the leaderboard with a brilliant 7-under-par 64 to take the clubhouse lead. He made eight birdies in the final round -- more than in both his second and third rounds combined.
"Jeff played an amazing round today," Johnson remarked. "I was watching the scoreboards all day and honestly, when I made the turn and saw what he was doing I didn't think I could catch him."
Johnson made up ground on the back nine and arrived at the 18th hole one stroke back of Gallagher. He laid up on the 577-yard par 5, then deftly wedged in his approach to five feet and coolly knocked the putt into the center of the cup.
They returned to the 18th for a playoff, where both players' drives found the left rough. Each recovered nicely to inside of 100 yards. Johnson was first to play and hit his approach to four feet. Gallagher countered with a low spinning wedge that landed past the hole and spun back to five feet.
Gallagher, first to play, slid his downhiller just past the left edge and tapped in for par. Johnson took advantage of the opportunity, making his 4-footer to seal the victory.
"The last couple of years have been rough, but I have been playing really well recently," he said. "I can feel my game coming together. In the past I would be making changes to my game all the time -- even in between rounds. This year I've been focusing on the same fundamentals and it has paid off."
With this victory, Johnson jumps from 24th to fourth on the Nationwide Tour money list. The top-25 finishers at the end of the season earn PGA TOUR cards for 2010. The win also guarantees him fully-exempt status on the Nationwide Tour for next year.
Johnson, born in Plymouth, Mass. and a resident of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., is playing in his 14th full season on the Nationwide Tour. He made his rookie debut in 1990, which was also the inaugural season of the Tour. The 42-year-old three-time All-American out of Clemson University played on the PGA TOUR in 2001 after earning his card at the PGA TOUR National Qualifying Tournament in 2000.
Current Nationwide Tour money leader Michael Sim tied for 30th. His quest for his third win of the season and an instant promotion to the PGA TOUR will resume next week at the Melwood Prince George's County Open in Mitchellville, Md. (Washington, D.C.).
The final round began as on time at 7:30 a.m. and ended at approximately 5:20 p.m. It was partly to mostly cloudy throughout the day with high temperatures in the mid-80s. Winds were out of the west-southwest at 6 to 12 mph.
• Scott Gardiner bounced back with a 7-under 64 after a 5-over 76 in the third round -- a differential of 12 strokes. The second-round co-leader started the day tied for 53rd and finished tied for 14th.
• Fellow Nationwide Tour veteran Ben Bates caddied for Jim McGovern this week. Bates was an alternate this week and offered to caddie for his long-time colleague after not making it into the field. "We've been best friends out here for years," he said. "When we're out there together it feels more like a fun day on the golf course than a serious tournament."
• Several 2008 Nationwide Tour graduates were in the field this week, including David Mathis (third place), Darron Stiles (tied for 30th), Brendon De Jonge and Brendon Todd (tied for 47th). Also playing was 2005 graduate Jason Gore (tied for 56th). These players did not get into the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial on the PGA TOUR and still have status on the Nationwide Tour.
• Scoring averages at TPC Wakefield Plantation: Round 1 - 70.1 Round 2 - 70.3 Round 3 - 69.4 Round 3 - 70.1 Cumulative - 70.0