May 18th, 2012
Swafford secures first Nationwide Tour title in style
By Mike Blum
Hudson Swafford made certain that his first win on the Nationwide Tour was a memorable one.
Swafford, a 2011 U. of Georgia graduate, returned to his college town for the first time as a pro, and captured the Stadion Classic at UGA with the most spectacular shot in the tournament’s brief history.
With a slam dunk hole-out from a greenside bunker on the 18th hole in the final round, Swafford edged out rising star Luke List and former U.S Open champion Lee Janzen by one stroke. Swafford’s 72nd hole birdie gave him a course record 62 and was part of a wild conclusion to an event that produced plenty of twists and turns in a scintillating final round shootout.
“It doesn’t get any better than that,” Swafford said shortly after his victory, which vaulted him from 61st to 7th on the money list and puts him in position to earn his PGA Tour card for 2013.
As he walked towards the 18th green, Swafford told his caddie, “We have to make this. But talking about it and doing it are two different things.”
Swafford’s sandy birdie closed out his remarkable final round that included 10 birdies on the stout par-71 UGA layout, with nine of the 10 coming in three stretches of three in a row.
When he teed off 90 minutes ahead of the lead group in the final round, Swafford was tied for 15th place, five strokes off the lead of South Africa’s Tyrone Van Aswegan. A three-putt bogey on the opening hole dropped Swafford six shots off the pace, but he came right back with a birdie on the next hole and was off and running.
Swafford shot into contention with consecutive birdies at holes 5, 6 and 7, but was still three off the lead as he made the turn to the more penal but also more vulnerable back nine.
A second string of three straight birdies beginning at the 11th pulled Swafford into a tie with List, who had won the week before in Valdosta. Several other players were also battling for the lead, but List and Swafford put a little distance between them and the other contenders.
Swafford closed with birdies at 16, 17 and 18 to set the course record of 62, but List answered with his own flurry of birdies, the last one coming on 17 to tie him for the lead with one hole to play.
But List’s tee shot on the 18th sailed into the trees right of the fairway and his second shot clipped some branches, leaving him an equally difficult third shot, which missed the green wide left. He managed to scramble for bogey, settling for a final round 66 and a 16-under 268 total, one stroke behind Swafford.
Janzen, making just his second Nationwide Tour start of the season – his first two on the tour in more than 20 years – was lapped by the field after playing his first 10 holes in 1-over without a birdie. But he suddenly began to sizzle, making birdie on seven of the last eight holes, including the final five in succession.
That gave him a 29 on his final nine and a 65 on the day, tying List for 2nd at 16-under. Former Florida Gator Billy Horschelfinished 4th at 15-under after a closing 69, with Van Aswegan taking 5th at 14-under, finishing with a 70.
Swafford was a contender from the first round, carding a 66 highlighted by consecutive birdies on 13, 14 and 15 on his opening nine of the tournament. Kent Jones, a long-time journeyman on the PGA Tour, led with a 63, two on front of Janzen, David Skinns and Brandon Brown, the latter duo among the top players in recent years on the Hooters Tour.
Horschel and Jim Herman, who wound up 6th at 13-under, shared the 36-hole lead at 132, with Horschel’s 63 the low round of the day. List was among four players one shot off the lead, along with Albany’s Josh Broadaway, former Georgia Southern golfer Aron Price and Jason Gore. Swafford struggled late on both his nines, shot 70 and was four off the lead at 136.
Van Aswegan moved to the front after a third round 65 got him to 13-under, one ahead of Horschel, South Korea’s Bio Kim, a PGA Tour rookie last year, and veteran PGA Tour player Woody Austin.
A total of 20 players began the final round within five strokes of Van Aswegan’s lead, and one of those five back wound up winning with a spectacular comeback.
Swafford, who came to UGA from Tallahassee, Fla., spent most of his college career in Athens playing in the shadow of Russell Henley and Harris English, who both won as amateurs on the Nationwide Tour last year.
After a disappointing showing in the NCAA Championship, where the Bulldogs lost in the title match to Augusta State, Swafford turned pro and placed 2nd in his second start on the eGolf Tour, winning on the tour later in the season.
In his first experience with the often painful process of Q-school, Swafford reached the finals and put himself in position to earn a PGA Tour card, firing a fifth round 65 to move just inside the top 25. But he settled for a final round 73 to miss jumping straight to golf’s major leagues by two shots, earning exempt status on the Nationwide Tour for 2012.
Swafford had played respectably as a Nationwide Tour rookie, notching back-to-back top-20 finishes in California and Valdosta before his breakthrough in Athens.
Even after the three consecutive birdies on the front nine, Swafford said he did not seriously entertain the thought of winning until making birdie at the short but pesky par-4 11th.
“That got me to 4-under for the day, and I thought I definitely had a chance. Then I caught fire on the next few holes.”
A nice birdie putt at the 13th pulled Swafford into a tie for the lead, and even though he wasn’t sneaking peaks at the leader board, he recognized he “was right in it. Nobody was running away.”
Swafford took the lead with a precise iron shot to a tough pin on the par-3 16th and followed with a birdie at the 17th after just missing the green on the par 5 with his second shot. List, about four holes behind Swafford, answered both birdies, leaving them tied with Swafford playing the 18th.
Like List a little later, Swafford also missed the 18th fairway to the right, but had a less obstructed second shot. He almost avoided the greenside bunker, but it rolled back into the sand, leaving him a relatively easy recovery shot.
When he hit his bunker shot, Swafford thought it was heading past the hole, but the ball dived straight into the cup, glancing off the bottom of the flagstick on the way down.
“When that bunker shot went in, it was a surreal feeling,” said Swafford, who had to wait well over an hour before celebrating his victory.
Swafford had been looking forward to playing in the tournament since he earned his Nationwide Tour card late last year.
“It was a sense of comfort,” he said. “It helped playing the course as many times as we’ve played it.”
Swafford put his course knowledge to good use and then some.
“I did everything I could. I shot a course record. Just to have a chance was thrilling.”
Swafford was one of three ex-Bulldogs to finish in the top 10, although the other two graduated 12 and 19 years before him.Justin Bolli and Paul Claxton both tied for 7th at 12-under, with both closing with back-to-back scores of 66-67. With previous finishes of 3rd and 2nd, Claxton left Athens 6th on the money list, with Bolli 26th after his second top 10 of the season.
Price was only 1-under on the weekend and tied for 16th at 10-under, with former Georgia Tech golfers Nicholas Thompsonand Paul Haley 24th and 27th respectively. Haley, a winner earlier this year in Chile, is 3rd on the money list.
Skinns, who lives in Suwanee, was 1-over the final 54 holes and finished T34 after playing his way into the South Georgia Classic as a Monday qualifier and finishing in the top 20 in Valdosta. Broadaway fell to T45, shooting 72-76 on the weekend after opening with scores of 67-66.
The cut came at 2-under 140, with four Georgians missing by just one shot. Georgia PGA member Bill Murchison, an assistant at Towne Lake Hills, shot a second round 68, but bogeyed the 18th. Former Norcross resident Reid Edstrom also missed by one despite a 68 Friday, with Duluth’s Brent Witcher also bogeying the 18th after making the cut in Valdosta the week before. LaFayette’s John Kimbell was on the cut line before a bogey at the par-5 17th.
Henley, the defending champion, shot 69 the first round, but slipped to a 74 and missed the cut by three at 143.