Justin Thomas sank a three-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole to defeat Richard Sterne and claim the 2014 Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship at the Ohio State University Golf Course Scarlet Course. The pair each finished with 72-hole totals of 6-under-par 278.
Thomas, who grew up in the Louisville, Ky., area and attended the University of Alabama, sealed his victory after hitting a wedge from 75 yards to three feet and then draining his putt for his first professional victory in just his 20th start on the Web.com Tour. He earned $180,000 with the win.
Sean O’Hair matched the day’s best round with a 4-under 67, which moved him into a tie for third place with Korea’s Whee Kim. The two finished at 5-under and one shot out of the playoff. Veteran J.J. Henry also carded a 67 on Sunday, good for solo fifth place.
Things looked bleak late on the back nine for Thomas, who trailed Sterne by three strokes with three holes remaining.
However, Sterne, playing in the final and behind Thomas, was unable to build on his lead after making an eagle at No. 12 to go up by three strokes. Minutes later, things started to go awry for the 32-year-old South African when he three-putted No. 15 for bogey and then made consecutive bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 to fall back into a tie with Thomas. He was then unable to birdie No. 18.
“I don't really feel much right now. Everything is pretty numb. It's crazy,” said Thomas. “I feel like of all the chances I had, it's crazy how this one kind of worked out, but sometimes that's how it happens. I believe everything happens for a reason and it just happened to be my week. So I'm pumped.”
For Thomas, the win was extra special since he had both his parents and grandparents following him on Sunday. The former reside in Columbus.
“I just tried to stay patient today and you have to do that here. I don’t want to say it’s a relief to win, but it’s hard to win with the level of play out here,” Thomas continued.
Was it the biggest win of his career?
“Yes, I would. Any time you win, it’s tremendous. It’s a tremendous honor. It means you’re the best that week and you beat everybody you played against. It’s a really cool feeling and it’s tough because it doesn’t happen very often, especially in professional golf.”
It was a particularly frustrating finish for Sterne who appeared in the driver’s seat for his first U.S. victory. But perhaps playing the last 10 consecutive weeks may have caught up with him.
“I struggled all day to roll the 30, 40 footers up close and I came up short couple times. I thought this time just give it a little bit more and it rolled on five, six feet past (on No. 15),” said Sterne. That was the first short putt I missed all day. I had putted well up until then, and I hit a bad tee shot on 16 and it really left me with no shot. So, I had to take my medicine there and try and up-and-down it. Then I hit a bad tee shot on 17 and unfortunately, it's a bad shot at the wrong time and that's — when you're playing at this level, it can bite you.”
Sterne will forego competing in next week’s Web.com Tour Championship at Dye’s Valley Course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., instead opting to return home to South Africa on Monday.
It will be a different story for Thomas. He’ll head to Jacksonville where he’ll try to improve on his current status on the priority list. He is currently fourth.
- Sterne collected a runner-up check for $108,000 and guarantees himself a spot on the 2014-15 PGA TOUR, which begins next month. Sterne has been a regular member of the European Tour since 2003. He has eight international wins including three on the European Tour.
- Sterne missed the cut at the Hotel Fitness Championship and was T41 at last week’s Chiquita Classic.
- Sterne came into the week as the highest-ranked player in the field according to the Official World Golf Rankings (#82). He was one of five players ranked in the top-150.
- Sterne was born in Pretoria, South Africa and still lives in Stellenbosch, Cape Town.
- Sterne has made 25 cuts in 35 PGA TOUR events since 2006. He was 6-of-7 this year with a T17 at the WGC-Accenture Match Play and a T4 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
- Sterne is headed back to South Africa and will not compete in next week’s Web.com Tour Championship. He plans to take a couple of weeks off before starting preparations for the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.