19th HOLE: Stiles Makes Hay in New Zealand
Darron Stiles used a blazing start and a clutch finish to win the rain-shortened Nationwide Tour's New Zealand PGA Championship last weekend.
Stiles, who lives in Pinehurst, avoided a playoff when he holed a seven-foot birdie putt on the final hole to nip New Zealand's David Smail by a stroke in the 36-hole event. The second and third rounds were washed out.
The 34-year-old Stiles, who began the final round with five birdies over the first six holes, held a four-shot lead before making bogey on the ninth hole, but Smail rallied to shoot 66 on the Clearwater Resort course near Chirstchurch, New Zealand.
Stiles shot 66-68 -- 134 and won $117,000, but the tournament will not be recognized as an official tour win because of being shortened to 36 holes.
"I never make things easy," Stiles told reporters. "It may have been just the second round, but it felt every bit as pressure-packed as in a normal fourth-round Sunday.
"To make that putt on 18, when that is the area I've been struggling with, was just awesome. To come out and win the third event, or win at any time of the year, is fantastic. From now on, I'll have that much more confidence."
Stiles, who is a native of St. Petersburg, Fla., won his fifth Nationwide championship. Only Sean Murphy, Matt Gogel and Jason Gore, with six wins each, have won more than Stiles on the tour. He hopes the win will help him regain his PGA Tour playing privileges, which he lost last year after finishing 192nd on the money list.
"This tour is still a proving ground," he said. "I needed to come here and regroup in my head and find out what I have to do to get back on the PGA Tour.
"That is what this tour does so well. It gives you a great place to play. The competition is just as tough out here, if not tougher, than it is on the PGA Tour."
While the earnings count as official earnings, the fact that the victory is unofficial didn't bother Stiles.
"Everything on this tour is based on the money list," he said, "so even though the win is unofficial, the money I won today will go a long way toward finishing first on the money list at the end of the year."
One of the players in the field was Michael Campbell, who won the 2005 U.S. Open held in Pinehurst.
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