Former Georgia Tech standout Roberto Castro took a big step toward returning to the PGA Tour later this year, placing second last week in a Web.com Tour event in Savannah.
Castro, who has played on the PGA Tour the last six seasons, is playing the Web.com Tour in 2018 after a tough year in 2017. After qualifying for the Tour Championship for the second time in 2016, he suffered through a forgettable 2017 season, and came up short of regaining his PGA Tour status in the Web.com Finals.
After playing respectably in his first three Web.com starts this season, Castro was a distant 93rd on the money list through six tournaments, but put himself back in position for a top-25 finish with his fifth career runner-up finish on the Web.com and PGA Tours.
Finishing second in a tour event can be a frustrating and potentially deflating experience, but there wasn’t much for Castro to be disappointed about regarding his runner-up showing in Savannah.
Trailing by two shots entering the final round at the Landings Club Deer Creek course, Castro moved into the lead with a sizzling stretch of golf beginning at the fifth hole. He birdied eight of the last 14 holes to shoot an 8-under 64, the low round of the tournament. He edged in front of a pack of contenders with birdies on three of his last five holes, but one of his challengers matched his late birdie barrage.
Third round leader Sam Burns, the 2017 college player of the year at LSU, closed with birdies at 16, 17 and 18 for a third straight score of 65, nosing out Castro by a shot with a 21-under total of 267.
Castro opened with a 73, making his only birdie of the round on the first hole. Speaking a few days after his runner-up finish, he said if he lost the tournament at any point, it was in the first round, as he followed with scores of 65-66-64, collecting 22 birdies and a lone bogey over his final 54 holes.
But Burns matched his 21-under total over the last three days after opening with a 72 to put him just ahead of Castro, with the pair seven and eight shots off the lead.
Castro’s younger brother Franco, who was caddying for him last week, began his college golf career at LSU prior to Burns’ arrival in Baton Rouge, and in a moment of prescience, gave his older brother some sage advice after Roberto’s opening 73.
“Well, you’re only one back of the guy you need to beat anyway,” Roberto said his brother told him. “And that was literally Thursday afternoon. So I finished one shot back and that’s how it goes.”
Castro had no complaints with his runner-up finish, offering that he took away “totally positive” feelings away from the tournament.
After failing to birdie the first par 5 at Deer Creek, Castro began his final round surge with a birdie on the short par-4 fifth. He followed with a birdie at the par-5 sixth and moved into a tie lead with birdies at 9 and 10, two of the toughest holes on the course. He holed a 20-footer at 9 and a putt in the 8-to-10-foot range at the 10th after crisp approach shots and followed with a third straight birdie on the par-4 11th to take a one-shot lead over a trio of players.
A birdie at the par-5 14th put him back in the outright lead after being tied by former St. Simons Island resident Scott Langley, who already has a Web.com win this season. Castro again assumed sole possession of the lead when he birdied the par-4 16th to break a tie with Burns.
Castro closed with a birdie at the par-5 18th, but Burns kept matching him birdie for birdie, and closed with three in a row, reaching the 18th in two and two-putting. When Castro birdied the 18th to post 20-under, he figured Burns would birdie two of the last three to tie him, but knew three straight was a possibility.
“I almost did it,” he said. “I hit it 10-to-12 feet on 17 and just missed.”
Burns tied for second early in the 2018 Web.com season in Colombia, and was coming off consecutive finishes of 8th and 12th in the Honda Classic and PGA Tour stop in Tampa, beating playing partner Tiger Woods in the final round of the Honda.
While Burns advanced from 19th to 4th on the money list, Castro took an even bigger jump, moving up from 93rd to 14th.
It puts him in good position for a top-25 finish as he enters a more favorable portion of the 2018 schedule.
Castro, who has two young daughters, the second of whom was born in November, played only three of the first six Web.com events in 2018, and said he is going to be picky about his schedule for the rest of the year.
“I’ve got two little ones at home and I’m not a young kid anymore,” said the 32-year-old Castro, who grew up in Alpharetta and resides in Atlanta with his wife Katie.
He said he is “going to go on instinct,” regarding his schedule for the remainder of 2018. “I know what I need to do to give myself a chance. I’ve never looked back on a season and said I didn’t play enough. It’s all about how well you’re playing, not how much.”
Playing in Savannah was an easy decision for Castro, who scored two of his five wins as a mini-tour player early in his professional career in the city.
After excelling for four years on the golf course and in the classroom at Georgia Tech (he earned All-American honors six times as a player and student/athlete), Castro turned pro in 2007. He finished seventh in his first tournament as a professional before winning his second start on the Tar Heel Tour in Charlottesville, Va.
That victory was the first of five for Castro on what became the eGolf Tour and is now defunct, with his last two wins coming in the fall of 2009 and spring of 2010, both in Savannah. With his second win in Charlottesville in 2009 and a victory at Savannah Harbor later that year, Castro collected paychecks totaling $90,000, enabling him to pursue status on the Web.com Tour through Monday qualifiers.
Castro scored a second win in Savannah early 2010 in an event played at both Savannah Harbor and Savannah Quarters. It was the last of his five wins on the tour and came in memorable fashion. He trailed current PGA Tour member William McGirt, the winner of the 2016 Memorial Tournament, by one shot going to the final round, and was paired with McGirt in the final group along with Atlanta area tour pro Jonathan Fricke, who like Castro plays out of Golf Club of Georgia.
Thanks to six birdies on his first 13 holes at Savannah Quarters the final day, Castro assumed a 2-shot lead, but hit his tee shot to the island green 15th in the water and made double bogey to fall one behind McGirt. Castro managed a par on the par-5 17th after another shot in the water, but came back with a birdie on the 18th, winning by one when McGirt bogeyed the hole.
Castro, who has good memories of his time in Savannah, came away with positive feelings about the city, the tournament and the course after his most recent stay there. Not all the cities and courses the Web.com Tour visits have the same appeal as Savannah and the Landings, and Castro said he will assess each situation and if he has heard enough negative things about the course or city, “I’ll just skip it.”
Castro, who also won the Georgia Open at Barnsley Gardens in 2009, has not won a tournament since he second victory in Savannah in early 2010, but has come close on several occasions prior to his runner-up finish last week.
His first second-place finish came on the Web.com in 2010, with Castro was overtaken by a final round 64 by Jhonattan Vegan in Wichita, ending up one behind the winner. That tournament earned him status for the rest of the year and the 2011 season, with Castro playing well enough to move up to the PGA Tour in 2012.
In just his second season in golf’s major leagues, Castro made it to the Tour Championship on the strength of a runner-up finish to Bill Haas in the PGA Tour stop at Congressional and three straight strong showings in Playoffs events. He closed out his breakthrough season with a tie for ninth at East Lake after a final round 65.
Castro struggled in 2014 and lost his exempt status and did not play any better the next year in a limited schedule. But he regained his PGA Tour card for 2016 with three straight top 10s in the four-tournament Web.com Finals series, one of them a tie for second in Columbus, Ohio.
The next runner-up finish for Castro came in 2016 at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, where he lost in a playoff. He ended the season 53rd in the FedExCup standings, but moved into the top 30 with a third place finish behind Dustin Johnson and Paul Casey in a Playoffs event at Crooked Stick.
But just as happened in 2014, Castro could not follow up on a highly successful season and again lost his PGA Tour card. He made a run at a high enough finish in the Web.com Tour Championship, but came up just short and is without any status on the PGA Tour for the first time since 2011.
“I lost some energy after a really good 2016 season,” Castro said of his sub-standard play last year. “I got a little bit discouraged and did not putt very well, and that’s a bad combination on the PGA Tour.
“The margin is small out here, and a lot of 73s will not cut it.”
With his wife and two young daughters at home and the thoughts of six seasons on the PGA Tour, two of which were hugely successful, motivation can be a problem for a player accustomed to competing in golf’s major leagues but relegated to Class AAA for a year.
But as Castro admits, golf is his job and his motivation stems from his responsibility to support his family.
His play last week in Savannah was a display that Castro still has the motivation and skill to compete at golf’s highest level, and another week or two like that and he will back in the majors six months from now.