ARROWTOWN, New Zealand -- Washington's Alex Prugh felt right at home amid the mountains and lakes of New Zealand and his relaxed nature helped him earn his first career win Sunday. Prugh's blistering back-nine 30 contributed to an 8-under 64 that pushed him to a three-stroke win at the Michael Hill New Zealand Open.
Prugh, a 24-year old from Spokane, raced past the international field to finish at 19-under 269 and lead the American contingent to a 1-2-3 sweep on the Nationwide Tour's final stop of a three-tourney swing Down Under.
"If anything, this builds a lot of confidence for me," said Prugh, who collected $108,000 for the win. "The last time I felt nerves like that might have been at the Pacific Coast Amateur in 2005 but there were no leader boards there and we were playing in front of 30 people, not the thousands we had out here. I definitely thought I'd be more nervous coming down the stretch."
The second-year pro becomes the first American to win the New Zealand Open Championship since Corey Pavin, who captured back-to-back titles in 1984-85. The tournament dates back to 1907 but this was the first time it was a co-sanctioned event between the Australasian and Nationwide Tours.
Jeff Gove (70), another Washington native, was part of a six-way tie for fourth place, seven shots back of Prugh. New Zealand's Josh Geary (71) carried the banner for the homeland to share fourth along with a quartet of Australians, Andrew Bonhomme (66), Stephen Dartnall (68), Peter Senior (68) and Craig Parry (68).
"Where I grew up in eastern Washington, near the Idaho border, it looked a lot like this place," said Prugh of the local geography. "There were some lakes and some ski resorts in the area. I've felt more at home here than anyplace we've been on Tour so far."
Sunday's final round appeared to be another shootout with as many as 20 players jammed within four shots of the lead and Prugh was stuck in neutral in the middle of the pack.
"The day got off to a very slow start," he said. "I was even-par for my first seven holes and I thought I was going to be lapped by everybody."
Everything changed at the par-4 eighth, where Prugh's pitching wedge from the right rough eventually found the cup for an eagle.
"That one really kick-started my round," he said. "I thought, now we can really go."
And go he did. Prugh rolled in birdie putts at Nos. 11, 12 and 14 to grab a share of the lead with Piller, a good friend who he'd gone to dinner with "almost every night this week."
Prugh stepped in front with a 20-foot birdie putt at the par-3, 16th and then clinched things at the par-5, 17th.
"I hit a great 3-wood in there. I knew there was plenty of green and grass to the right and the only place I couldn't miss was left," said Prugh, who canned a 25-foot eagle putt. "That putt was uphill, breaking on a tier. I played it about four feet outside. When it got close, I saw it was dead center."
Piller was two groups back and was suffering a bogey at No. 16 about the same time that Prugh was making eagle. Suddenly, the lead was four, and Piller was almost out of holes and time.
"I came out and figured I got to 15- or 16-under I'd be okay," said Piller, a rookie making only his fourth career start. "It's a little disappointing that I didn't get it done but I gave it everything I had. I didn't leave anything in the bag. When you shoot 64 like that, you're going to win some tournaments. My hat's off to Alex."
Also among the day's highlights, Richard Johnson aced the par-4, 15th hole, only the second ace on a par-4 in Nationwide Tour history. Johnson's hole-in-one on the 347-yard hole vaulted him from 10-under to 13-under and just two shots off the lead at the time.
"I just aimed for the gap in the traps and smashed it as hard as I could," said Johnson, who joins Chip Beck in the history books. "I figured if I hit it really good I'd have a chance to get it in that back corner. I never saw it. It's too far but I heard the crowd go nuts."
Johnson bogeyed the next two holes and finished with a 1-under 70 to tie for 10th place.
• Richard Johnson recorded only the second hole-in-one on a par-4 in Nationwide Tour history. Johnson aced the downhill 347-yard, 15th hole. He joins Chip Beck, who aced the par-4 9th hole at the 2003 Omaha Classic. For his efforts, Johnson will receive a pallet of beer from tournament sponsor Heineken, or 125 dozen bottles, which multiplies out to 1,500 bottles. "I wonder if it will last more than a couple of weeks," he said. "I didn't know how much a pallet was, I just knew it was more than a case." Heineken will ship the beer to Johnson's destination of choice, his hometown of Fort Smith, Arkansas. .
• Johnson's ace at the par-4, 15th hole turns out not to be that rare. Steven Jeffress also made a hole-in-one at the same spot during the 2007 New Zealand Open at The Hills.
• The last player on the PGA TOUR to make an ace on a par-4 was Andrew Magee on the 17th hole at the 2001 Phoenix Open.
• Peter Senior, who turns 50 in July, shot a 4-under 68 to finish at 12-under 276 and tied for fourth. Senior also tied for 23rd at last week's HSBC New Zealand PGA Championship in Christchurch.
• New Zealand's Steve Alker, winner a week ago, posted a 1-under 71 on Sunday to wind up 10-under and tied for 13th.
• Sunday's scoring average was 71.90, bringing the four-day average to 71.996
• Sunday's weather: Sunny skies. Light and variable winds 5-10 mph. High of 75. 1