Five Takeaways: Hotel Fitness Championship, Rd. 4
Saunders impressive in return after vicious accident
September 13, 2015
By Kevin Prise, PGATOUR.COM
- Sam Saunders ranked T28 in driving accuracy and led the field in greens in regulation. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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FORT WAYNE, Ind. – Henrik Norlander earned his first career Web.com Tour title at the Hotel Fitness Championship, firing a four-day total of 19-under 269 at Sycamore Hills Golf Club. This week marked the first of four Web.com Tour Finals events that will determine the final 25 PGA TOUR cards awarded via the 2015 Web.com Tour season.
Here are five takeaways from the final round at Sycamore Hills Golf Club:
1. Sam Saunders was simply grateful to be playing the Hotel Fitness Championship. The 28-year-old Fort Collins, Colorado, resident spent two nights in intensive care in late August, after taking a fall while riding an electric scooter and suffering an epidural hematoma.
“I had a fractured skull, a brain bleed,” said Saunders. “I had a severe concussion and all that stuff. I was unconscious for two minutes before the ambulance came. I spent a couple of nights in the hospital.”
Saunders didn’t make a full swing until the Friday before the Hotel Fitness Championship, yet he managed to finish T4 at Sycamore Hills and likely secure a spot in the top 25 on the Finals money list.
Saunders, grandson of Arnold Palmer, was secured conditional TOUR status for next season by finishing inside the top 150 of the FedExCup, and his finish in Fort Wayne puts him in strong position to better that status via the Finals. He’ll take next week off, though, to regain energy – he said he hit the ball “shorter than I ever have in my life” this week.
“I’m almost relaxed to a positive point,” said Saunders of how he felt on the course at Sycamore Hills. “I don’t really have quite enough mental focus out there to get really nervous or anxious. So I just try to conserve all the energy that I can, and hopefully I can get back to working out and getting stronger again.
“It makes me not want to be stupid and think I’m invincible. I have a wife and kids that I need to be around for, for a long time. Something like that certainly makes you think twice about jumping off a rock, or not wearing a helmet. It’s just not worth it.”
2. Michael Thompson needed three more shots than his playing partner to navigate Sycamore Hills on Sunday.
Luckily for Thompson, though, his playing partner was champion Henrik Norlander, who fired a course-record 62. Thompson’s 7-under 65 worked just fine, as the University of Alabama graduate went on to finish tied for second at 16 under.
The result secures Thompson, 30, a spot inside the top 25 on the Finals money list, and the subsequent TOUR card for next season.
Thompson knew he had conditional status after finishing No. 146 in the FedExCup, but now he’s well positioned to better his status. Those types of things will happen when you play in a twosome that shoots a combined 17 under for a round.
“I have been fortunate enough, the last five years, to be able to play on TOUR,” said Thompson after the final round. “I love it; I’ve gotten to know some of the guys. I had really been looking forward to these four (Finals) events … I think that going into these four, it’s all about your attitude.
“You’ve really got to look at it as an opportunity. I was patient and played my game, and I’m really, really happy.”
3. Anirban Lahiri entered the final round in second place, well positioned to secure a spot in the top 25 on the Finals money list with a strong Sunday at Sycamore Hills.
The 28-year-old India native stumbled early in the final round, though. He rebounded late to shoot 1-under 71, but his T6 finish means that he still has some work to do in order to secure TOUR status.
The world No. 40 was happy with his Web.com Tour debut overall, though, and looks forward to resuming his quest for TOUR status at next week’s Small Business Connection Championship at River Run.
“It was probably a case of trying too hard,” said Lahiri, who played his first 12 holes Sunday in 2 over before making three late birdies. “I went out there and tried to push from the get-go, and I really didn’t need to.
“I think it hit me like a bolt of lightning on the 12th green when I missed my putt for birdie. I was like, ‘You know, what the heck? I just need to enjoy myself a little bit more.’ … I played well coming in, so I’m happy.”
4. Hiroshi Iwata spends the majority of his time on the Japan Golf Tour, where he has played well enough to enter the Web.com Tour Finals at No. 84 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
The 34-year-old has always wanted to play the PGA TOUR, though. By finishing T3 at the WGC-HSBC Champions and T21 at the PGA Championship, he earned enough non-member FedExCup points to become eligible for the Web.com Tour Finals.
With a T4 at the Hotel Fitness Championship – where he birdied the first three holes Sunday en route to a 6-under 66 – Iwata is off to a good start in achieving his goal.
“When I was little, I played a little bit of baseball and skateboarding,” said Iwata at Sycamore Hills. “Every time, I wanted to play on U.S. soil. So when I started golf, I figured I just wanted to play on the PGA TOUR. That was my primary goal from the beginning.”
5. Derek Fathauer won last year’s Web.com Tour Finals money list, earning fully exempt status for the 2014-15 TOUR season, but struggled throughout the year en route to a 169th-place finish in the FedExCup.
The University of Louisville alum entered the Finals with confidence, though. He knew that he had a good game plan for the four Finals courses, and memories of finishing in the top 16 of all four Finals events last year didn’t hurt.
Fathauer maintained his top-16 streak this week at Sycamore Hills. He rebounded from an opening-round 74 with three straight rounds of 70 or better, finishing T10.
“That’s what I’m trying to do,” said Fathauer when asked if he was treating the Finals as a fresh start. “It’s tough, though. You go through a lot throughout the season, and to be back here is not where you want to be, but you do have a clean slate.
“There are 25 guys that have a card, but there are still 25 to get one. So just go in with a positive attitude and see where it puts you.”