Kohles wins NCHI in first professional start
Ben Kohles rolled in a 22-foot birdie on the first playoff hole to beat Luke Guthrie and win the Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational in his first professional start.
Kohles, the 54-hole leader, birdied two of his final three holes in regulation to finish at 12-under 272 and force a playoff with Guthrie, who minutes earlier rolled in nearly the exact same putt for birdie on his 72nd hole to shoot a 5-under 66 and take temporary possession of the clubhouse lead.
Kohles and Guthrie, both college All-Americans this past year, returned to the 439-yard 18th hole for the tournament's second playoff in six years.
Guthrie, who played at Illinois, missed his birdie try from 25 feet and then watched as Kohles became the 13th player in Web.com Tour history to win in his first Tour start.
Kohles becomes the first player to win a Web.com Tour event in his first pro start. After finishing T18 at the Porter Cup in New York a week ago, Kohles came to Columbus and checked the box labeled "professional" on his registration form.
"It's absolutely a dream come true," said Kohles, who, unlike the other first-time winners before him, had no prior professional experience. "What more can you ask for in your first pro event than to win? It's still a bit of shock and I'm not sure it's all sunk in yet."
With the win Kohles becomes the third collegian or former collegian to win this event since it began in 2007. Daniel Summerhays had just completed his junior year at BYU when he won the inaugural event. Harris English was barely out of his graduation gap and gown from Georgia when he birdied the final hole last year to win as an amateur.
Kohles isn't an amateur anymore but he's as close as it gets. He also one-ups Summerhays and English by collecting the $144,000 first-place check, the second-largest on Tour.
"Coming straight out of college I didn't have any money to my name but I guess I have some now," he said with a laugh.
Kohles moves from nowhere to No. 13 on the Tour money list. The 25 leading money winners at the end of the year will earn their PGA TOUR cards for 2013.
For his runner-up finish Guthrie pockets $86,400, which he can add to the $284,672 he's won in three PGA TOUR starts since finishing up his college career at Illinois.
"There are a lot of good college players out there and a lot of good college programs," said Guthrie. "When we get out here we relish the moment. It's our chance to play well and show what we've got."
Kohles certainly showed plenty of moxie. The 22-year-old started the final round at the Scarlet Course at Ohio State University with a two-stroke lead but fell into a jumbled leaderboard when he stumbled with bogeys at Nos. 5 and 6.
Several challenged for the lead but nobody was able to break free from the pack.
Casey Wittenberg, the Tour's only two-time winner this year, looked like he'd make it three wins when he birdied No. 16 to get to 12-under par but was done in by a bogey on the next and then missed his shot at birdie on the last.
Wittenberg shot a 68 but wound up one shot back along with veteran Cliff Kresge (69). Penn State's Kevin Foley birdied his final two holes for a 66 and a 10-under total, good for solo fifth. Aaron Watkins shot an even-par 71 for sixth place, three off the pace.