After finishing tied for 10th at last week’s U.S. Open, Casey Wittenberg knew he was playing well when he came to Wichita.
Despite making an unusual bogey early in the round, the Oklahoma State product stayed patient and birdied four of his last nine holes to rally past a faltering Jim Herman in searing 100-degree heat and win the 23rd Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open.
The victory allowed Wittenberg to become the first player this year to claim multiple titles on the Nationwide Tour and he is now poised to earn a “battlefield” promotion to the PGA TOUR should he win a third title later this year.
The Oklahoma State product’s second title in almost three months didn’t come nearly as easy as his record-setting eight-stroke triumph at the Chitimacha Louisiana Open in late March.
“I got a bad break on the sixth hole and essentially gave a shot back to the field there. I just put my head down and tried to make some birdies after that. I wanted to go win the golf tournament and not let it come to me, “Wittenberg said. “It’s hard to win any golf tournament whether you win by one shot or you win by eight. It’s nice to have more than a one shot lead coming into the last hole and fortunately I was in that position coming to the last hole.”
The Memphis native got off to a fast start with birdies on the first two holes, but Herman, the 36- and 54-hole leader this week, answered with birdies of his own on Nos. 2-3 to maintain his two-stroke advantage. When Wittenberg’s ball moved as he was making a stroke on the 6th green, he incurred a one-stroke penalty for violating Rule (18-2b/Ball Moving At Address) to fall three strokes back of Herman.
Still trailing by three after the 10th hole, Wittenberg made his move. He first two-putted from the fringe on the short par-4 11th hole to pick up a stroke on Herman and then crept within one when Herman made bogey at the par-3 12th. Wittenberg holed a 20-foot birdie at the 13th to stay close to Herman and then tied him for the lead with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 14th.
The tournament swung in Wittenberg’s favor when Herman found the water with his second shot on the par-4 15th, decelerating on a wedge shot from 130 yards. After making double-bogey there, Herman then three-putted from 20 feet at No. 16 and his chances for a second career win on the Nationwide Tour were over.
“I knew 15 was playing short and Casey had just gone long with his second shot there. I just quit on my gap wedge and it went in the water. I’ll remember that one for awhile. It was a pretty sad shot,” Herman said. “The bogey at No. 16 was frustrating. I lost my focus from the previous hole and made a pretty bad putt. To play so well and give it all away on one shot was tough. I’ll build off of it and try to get get ‘em next week.”
Justin Hicks, trailing by three strokes at the start of the round, briefly tied Herman for the lead after making birdie from 14 feet at No. 13 just before Herman bogeyed No. 12. However, Hicks played his final five holes in even par to fall two strokes short of Wittenberg.
Wittenberg’s win marked the second consecutive year that a player not only claimed his second victory of the season in Wichita but also won with the same score. Last year at Crestview Country Club, Matthew Goggin held off Kyle Thompson by one stroke with an 18-under 266 total.
Casey Wittenberg became the first player since Scott Piercy in 2008 to win this event with a round in the 70s. It was the third time in tournament history that a player won in Wichita by two strokes and the largest victory margin in Wichita in four years.
Casey Wittenberg’s victory today came in his third appearance in Wichita. He missed the cut in this event in both 2008 and 2010.
Casey Wittenberg’s check for $108,000 today moved him to No. 2 on the 2012 Nationwide Tour money list with $240,019. Paul Haley II still leads the race for The 25 with $244,234.
Cameron Percy’s final-round 65 equalled the low round of the day (Scott Gardiner) and vaulted him up 30 spots in the final standing into a T9, the biggest move by a player on Sunday.
Even though Jim Herman didn’t win this week. His tie for second-place earned him a check for $52,800 and moved into The 25. Herman started the week at No. 28 but is now 14th on the 2012 money list with $117,852.
Winners on the 2012 Nationwide Tour have now come out of the final grouping on Sunday eight times in 12 tournaments.
Clint Bowyer, a pro-am participant at the Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open on Wednesday, won the Toyota/Save Mart 350 today on a road course in Sonoma, Cal. It was his first victory of the 2012 season on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit.
It was the lowest cumulative scoring average at this event since 2008 (69.623). Last year’s cumulative stroke average at Crestview was 69.980.
For the third consecutive year, the par-4 6th hole played as the most difficult. The stroke average on the hole was 4.224 vs. 4.310 in 2010.
The Nationwide Tour travels to Evansville, Indiana next week for the inaugural United Leasing Championship at Victoria National Golf Club.