Lee Williams nabs first Nationwide Tour title in Mexico
LEON, Mexico (June 10, 2012) - Lee Williams has been waiting to win on the Nationwide Tour since he turned pro in 2005. After chipping to three feet on the 72nd hole, Williams faced a par putt that would give him that elusive title. So, naturally, Williams had to wait a little longer.
With playing partner Doug LaBelle II needing relief from a sprinkler head adjacent to the green and then a subsequent chip that left LaBelle still away, Williams waited and paced and waited some more. The wait was worth it, though, when he stepped up and drained the putt to win the Mexico Open by a stroke over Paul Haley II. The victory was worth $112,500, easily the largest payday of Williams' career. He finished at 14-under.
"I would have really liked to have gone ahead and hit that putt right then," said Williams, a native and resident of Alexander City, Ala. "It felt like freezing the kicker in football. But it gave me time to collect my thoughts and calm my nerves a little bit."
When the putt dropped, he pumped his fist four times and then found his travel companion and fellow Auburn alum, Phil Pettitt, who watched the action unfold on the 18th green. Pettitt walked over, put a big bear hug on his friend and later said, "If I can't win the tournament (Pettitt finished solo fourth), then that's the guy I want to win."
The two roommates this week who have been staying together at the host hotel have been friends since Williams, then a senior, hosted Pettitt on his official recruiting visit to Auburn. After signing his scorecard and making the win official, Williams again found Pettitt and told his pal he didn't have to worry about his portion of the hotel bill this week.
Williams had more than 112,000 reasons to be so magnanimous. War Eagle, indeed.
Playing in the last group both Saturday and Sunday, Williams admitted he was nervous. It didn't show, though, despite plodding along early in both weekend rounds, struggling to make birdies. Williams' first birdie in the final round didn't come until the 11th hole, and that only got him back to even-par for the day after he bogeyed No. 6. Another birdie on No. 12 followed, and his final birdie came on No. 15. When he stepped to the 18th green, he was pretty sure of his scoreboard position.
"I hit a 3-wood off the tee, and then I asked my caddie where I stood because I knew he was watching the leaderboards," Williams explained. "I knew I had a one-shot lead, and with no one cheering in the gallery, I knew no one ahead of me had made any birdies."
Playing the 72nd hole exactly as he wanted to, he laid up and then had what he said was a pretty simple wedge to the green for his third shot. "I hit what I thought was a really good shot. I thought I was just barely over the green. I thought I was going to be putting, and so did my caddie." Instead, he had to sweat out the final few minutes.
Waiting for a possible playoff was Haley, who was looking for his second win of the season. It didn't appear he had a chance to win after making a double bogey on the par-5 eighth hole, with two shots in the water. "That's three in the water there this week," Haley said, noting he also bogeyed that hole in the second round. "Going into the back nine, I thought if I could shoot 3- or 4-under and have a good finish, that's what I was trying to do.
"Then things kind of started rolling," he continued. "I was proud of how I came back, shooting 31 on the back nine on a Sunday in the final round." Haley made five consecutive birdies on holes 10-14, including a two-inch tap-in on No. 14 to move to 12-under and within two shots of the lead. But on the 18th hole, needing a birdie, Haley blasted from a greenside bunker and faced an eight-footer for birdie that would have taken him to 14-under. The ball dipped into the hole then slid out. "Unfortunately, I had a power lip out for birdie," Haley added.
As consolation, the $67,500 Haley made for his week's worth here put him on top of the Nationwide Tour money list, a little less than $6,000 ahead of Luke List.
Scott Gutschewski, who began the day tied for 14th, finished solo third and, like Haley, had five consecutive birdies in his final round. Only Gutschewski's roll started at the beginning of his round. The Nebraskan was sinking putts from all over El Bosque Country Club. A 20-footer on No. 4 and a 22-footer on No. 5, followed by a 45-foot bomb on No. 7 and a 40-footer on No. 15.
"I made a ton of putts. I putted really well in the second round, and then again today. It's been a while since I've done that," he said.
It was only Gutschewski's fourth made cut of the season and easily his best finish, worth $42,500.
Speaking of money, Williams' career-high payday eclipses the 45 grand he made for a second-place finish in a U.S. Pro Golf Tour event. "I've played in events with lots of people around. But the size of the tournament and being in contention in a Nationwide Tour event, it made that simple chip shot not a simple chip shot on 18."