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  • Late rally gives Ajubita unlikely Qualifying Tournament title

  • Neal Ajubita attended Clemson University but did not play college golf. (Laury Livsey/PGA TOUR)
    Neal Ajubita attended Clemson University but did not play college golf. (Laury Livsey/PGA TOUR)
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  • HOWEY-IN-THE-HILLS, Florida—When Neal Ajubita decided to sign up for the first PGA TOUR Latinoamérica Qualifying Tournament of 2019, he did it because he hadn’t played tournament golf for a while and figured it would be a good test to see how his game held up. “I thought if I played decent, maybe I would get some conditional status,” Ajubita said.

    That didn’t work out so well. By shooting a final-round 71 and taking advantage of 36- and 54-hole leader Dawson Armstrong faltering on the 71st hole, Ajubita—with no college-golf pedigree and primarily a mini-tour resume—won the tournament by a stroke. With it, he locked up full playing status for the entire season. “This is wild, man. I really didn’t expect this,” Ajubita said following a whirlwind final 60 minutes. “Now I have a full card. I have no idea what I’m going to do with it, but I’m sure I’m going to play the full year. Why not? It’s a great opportunity.”

    On the par-5 17th tee Friday at Mission Inn Resort and Club’s El Campeón Course, Armstrong held a three-shot advantage over Ajubita and Chandler Blanchet, who had just finished his round, posting a 12-under 276. In good shape off the tee and laying up short of the lake on his second shot, Armstrong hit his next two shots in the water. He then flew his next shot over the green, and he two-putted from there for a quadruple bogey-9.

    Ajubita parred the hole, taking the lead by a shot, something he assumed was the case although he wasn’t sure because there were no scoreboards on the course. Armstrong was unable to birdie the closing hole. Facing a birdie putt he estimates somewhere in the 50- to 55-foot range, Ajubita mis-hit his right-to-left putt, the ball coming up 12 feet short of the hole. For par, Ajubita stood over the putt and calmly sunk it, to edge Armstrong and Blanchet by a shot.

    “That was an incredibly hard two-putt on the last hole to secure it. It was probably the best two putt of my life, to be honest,” Ajubita added. “I’d say it was the most crucial putt I’ve ever made.”

    Did you know that Neal Ajubita attended Clemson University but did not play college golf? He essentially stopped playing the sport after high school and had no relationship with the golf team, which included future PGA TOUR players Kyle Stanley and Ben Martin. Ajubita majored in parks and recreation and tourism management with a concentration in professional golf management.

    Key Information

    Sub-Par Rounds this Week

    First Round

    28

    Second Round

    27

    Third Round

    24

    Final Round

    30

    Neal Ajubita had two early bogeys in his final round—at Nos. 3 and 5—and then he righted the ship, playing the rest of the way in 3-under, with three birdies and 10 pars.

    Neal Ajubita was 12-under on El Campeón’s back nine for his four rounds compared to 1-under on the front nine. He did most of his damage this week on the course’s five par-5s. He was 9-under over 72 holes on the par-5s. Ajubita was 2-over for the week on both the par-4 third and the par-4 11th.

    Even with his late-round struggles, Dawson Armstrong is in solid shape to play a full season between PGA TOUR Latinoamérica and the Mackenzie Tour – PGA TOUR Canada. Armstrong finished 34th on the 2018 Mackenzie Tour Order of Merit to retain his playing privileges. He had three top-10s a year ago, his best performance a tie for sixth at the Golf BC Championship in June.

    Two players with PGA TOUR lineage earned membership this week. Sean Jacklin tied for 23rd and Travis Huston tied for 33rd. Jacklin is the son of World Golf Hall of Fame member Tony Jacklin, a four-time PGA TOUR winner and two-time PGA TOUR Champions titlist. Two of Jacklin’s wins came in major championships—the 1969 Open Championship and the 1970 U.S. Open. Huston’s father is John, a seven-time PGA TOUR winner and a current PGA TOUR Champions player.

    Thirty-five players earned some sort of 2019 PGA TOUR Latinoamérica membership this week, 23 of the players picking up conditional status. Those who finished one shot outside the final qualifying numbers—at 3-over—just missing membership were Maxime Blandin, Matt Hansen, Ryan Wenzler, Jimmy Jones and Eric Ansett.

    During his professional career, which began in July 2006, Ryan Baca has played in four PGA TOUR events (including two in 2017-18) and nine Web.com Tour tournaments. He finished fourth with rounds of 74-69-66-69. He is fully exempt for the first half of the PGA TOUR Latinoamérica season. Baca has never made a start on any of the PGA TOUR’s international tours.

    While Josh Goldstein tied for 62nd and didn’t earn PGA TOUR Latinoamérica membership, he made sure his final round was memorable. After opening 76-77-80, Goldstein found something in his game and shot a 6-under 66, a 14-stroke improvement from the previous day. He made eight birdies and two bogeys, six of those birdies coming on his back nine. That 66 tied him for low score of the week—with Doc Redman (first round) and Dawson Armstrong (second round).

    Three players withdrew after their third rounds: Danny List, Grant Houser and Zach Weaver.

    Quotable

    “I just kept being patient. I knew I had hit some good putts and some good shots, and things didn’t pay off. I knew that was all I could do.” –Neal Ajubita

    “I hit great putts, and I did everything I thought I could do. They just didn’t fall. I accepted whatever my fate would be, and I just kept playing and playing.” –Neal Ajubita

    “I really didn’t expect what happened to Dawson to happen. That really jolted me. I had to refocus myself after that.” –Neal Ajubita following Dawson Armstrong’s quadruple bogey-9 on No. 17

    “I said, Just make the best putt possible. If I have to go into a playoff, that’s fine. I’ve worked really hard trying to stay in the present, and I think that was evident this week.” –Neal Ajubita on his final putt of the tournament

    “I wasn’t thinking of break or anything on the last hole. I just wanted to simply roll it toward the hole.” –Neal Ajubita

    “I didn’t make a big fuss. I gave myself a little fist pump. Not a big one; a little one. That’s not my style.” –Neal Ajubita on how he celebrated the 72nd-hole par

    “I was pretty sure I had won. I knew within my group I had won. I just didn’t know outside my group.” –Neal Ajubita on where he stood on the leaderboard following his round

    “I have all year, right?” –Neal Ajubita, asking a tournament official what winning the tournament meant for his playing schedule in 2019

    “Dawson is such a nice dude. He was so gracious about it afterward. He told me he really enjoyed playing. I like him a lot. He’s a classy guy.” –Neal Ajubita

    “It’s going to be interesting, and I’m looking forward to it. Sometimes you get lost on the mini tours, every week feeling the same.” –Ryan Baca on earning the right to play on PGA TOUR Latinoamérica for the first time

    Tournament Fast Fact

    Mission Inn Resort and Club’s El Campeón Course will again host a Qualifying Tournament when it hosts the Mackenzie Tour – PGA TOUR Canada’s second Qualifying Tournament, U.S. East on March 5-8.

    How the Qualifying Tournament Worked

    There were 113 players who started in the field this week, with 108 completing 72 holes. Below is a breakdown of the various rewards players earned this week:

    Finish Position

    Status

    Medalist

    Neal Ajubita

    Exempt for the entire 2019 season

    2nd through 11th (no ties)

    Chandler Blanchet

    Dawson Armstrong

    Ryan Baca

    Fredrik Lindblom

    Chase Johnson

    Seth Fair

    John Coultas

    Patrick Cover

    Hunter Richardson

    Greg Eason

    Fully exempt for the first half of the 2019 season

    12th through 35th (plus ties)

    Michael Schachner

    Brian Hughes

    Blake Abercrombie

    John Somers

    Ryan Cole

    Harrison Shih

    Brinson Paolini

    Kyle Mueller

    Nicholas Pandalena

    Edward Figuerora

    Ryan Orr

    Rowin Caron

    Alex Andrews

    Sean Jacklin

    Domenico Geminiani

    Paul Henderson

    Luke McClellan

    Christopher Crawford

    Peyton White

    Conner Godsey

    Stoney Crouch

    Thomas Lilly

    Gavin Hall

    Travis Huston

    Conditionally exempt for the first half of the 2019 season

    Final-Round Weather Report

    Pleasant and mild all day. High of 71. Wind ENE at 11 mph.