COLUMBUS, Ohio – Grayson Murray already had his PGA TOUR card secured. With seven top-10s in his first 15 starts on the Web.com Tour, Murray had been knocking on the door. On Sunday, the 22-year-old earned his first Web.com Tour victory at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship, edging Cameron Smith by one shot with a final-round 3-under 68. The Web.com Tour rookie came from four shots back in the final round to take over first on the Web.com Tour Finals money list in the penultimate event.
“I racked up so many top-10s this year, I was knocking on the door, and I knew if I kept putting myself in position on Sunday it was going to just be a matter of time before I won,” Murray said. “Just credit to everyone around me keeping me positive through those stretches where I did miss the cut this year, and my parents, my swing coach, some mentors back home, just it couldn’t be possible without all them.”
When Murray exited the scorer’s tent after signing for a 12-under 272, Martin Flores was the only player remaining on the golf course with a chance of catching him. Trailing Murray by two shots with two to play, Flores made par at the 17th and knew he needed to hole out at the par-4 18th for eagle to force a playoff. He nearly did, rattling the flagstick with his approach into the par-4 finishing hole, but the ball caromed off to the left of the pin to seal up the victory for Murray.
Murray entered the day four shots back of Flores, but the 54-hole leader shot a 4-over 40 on the front nine to allow Murray to make up ground. Although Murray wasn’t particularly pleased with an even-par 36 on the front, he entered the back nine just two shots back of the lead, and quickly birdied three of the first four holes on the back nine to tie Smith at the top at 12-under.
After Smith made a costly bogey at the par-4 15th, Murray never relinquished the lead with five crucial pars to close out the tournament.
“Stayed patient all day,” Murray said. “Made a bogey on 8, and that birdie on 10 really got me going on the back nine and made a great couple par saves on the back nine that I was giving myself five, six footers it seemed like every hole on that back nine, but I was confident stroking it well. It’s just a dream scenario, walking up 18 with a one-shot lead.”
Entering the Tour season with conditional status after a T74 finish at Web.com Tour Qualifying School, Murray didn’t make his first start of the season until Monday qualifying for the Chitimacha Louisiana Open presented by NACHER. The Raleigh, North Carolina native missed the cut by one shot there, but got his next shot a couple weeks later with a sponsor’s exemption into his home event – the Rex Hospital Open. He never looked back, finishing T10 there and T8 the following week at the BMW Charity Pro-Am.
Murray posted two more top-10s in June and July and nearly won the Digital Ally Open, missing a birdie putt at the last for the outright victory before falling in a playoff to Wesley Bryan. That runner-up helped secure his PGA TOUR card for the 2016-17 season, but the win remained elusive. Not anymore.
“I want to think this is only the beginning of what could be on the PGA TOUR,” Murray said. “I need to keep working really hard and keep going. It’s very, very tough to win out here and I’m going to enjoy this win for sure, but I know the great champions keep working even harder after they get that first win so that’s my plan.”
As special as the walk was for Murray, it was even more special because of who was beside him – his caddie, Mike Hicks. Hicks was on the bag for Payne Stewart for all three major championships and had been a long-time family friend after Murray played with his son, Jacob Hicks, in a junior event years ago. Ever since, the two had stayed in touch and Hicks caddied for him through Web.com Tour Qualifying School but had been out with Vaughn Taylor on the PGA TOUR this season. With Taylor’s season complete, Hicks joined Murray this week for the first time this season and will be heading with him up to the TOUR next season.
“It was awesome. We were walking up the fairway, and I said I hope we can get 10 more years out of you on my bag and just 10 more years of enjoyment,” Murray said. “Because after Payne Stewart passed away, he’s had good players, but I don’t think he’s really enjoyed his walk like he did with Payne. I’m not trying to compare myself to Payne whatsoever, but I’m really good friends with Mike and his son, and we go back a long way. I hope we can have many more years of enjoyment out on the course.”
Although Smith fell a shot short of his first Web.com Tour victory, the 23-year-old Aussie wasn’t too disappointed as the runner-up finish locked up a return to the TOUR for the 2016-17 season.
“I'm just happy that I'm heading back to the PGA TOUR, to be honest,” Smith said. “That was, obviously, the goal through these four weeks and to get it done a week early is definitely a relief.”
Kevin Tway and Flores finished in a tie for third at 10-under. Tway secured a return to the TOUR with his final-round 4-under 67.
* Sunday weather: Partly cloudy. High: 88, Low: 65, Winds: S-SE 5-10 mph.
* This week’s purse is $1,000,000, with $180,000 going to the champion.
* This is the third event in the Web.com Tour Finals, a series of four events that will conclude at the Web.com Tour Championship in Atlantic Beach, Fla., Oct. 6-9. Twenty-five PGA TOUR cards were awarded four weeks ago following the WinCo Foods Portland Open. An additional 25 cards are up for grabs during the four Finals events, as well as positioning for all 50 cards.
* This is the fourth year of the Finals format and it’s difficult to gauge exactly how much money it will take to finish in the top-25 on the Finals money list and collect one of the remaining 25 PGA TOUR cards that will be handed out in a few weeks. Here’s how much money the No. 25 man on the money list earned in each of the past three years:
2013 No. 25 Bobby Gates $33,650.00 2014 No. 25 Eric Axley $36,311.66 2015 No. 25 Rob Oppenheim $32,206.00
* Grayson Murray earns his first career win in his 19th start on Tour. His previous best finish was a T2 at the Digital Ally Open.
* Murray’s victory comes at age 22 years, 11 months and 24 days. Murray is the youngest player to win on Tour since Si Woo Kim’s triumph at the 2015 Ellie Mae Classic.
* Murray is the 17th first-time winner this season through 24 events. Rookies on Tour have accounted for 10 victories this season.
* Murray is the 14th player in his 20s to win on Tour in 2016 in 24 events.
* Murray tops the Finals money list with $248,000. Murray has earned $407,973 this season and trails leading money winner Wesley Bryan by $41,429 heading into the Web.com Tour Championship.
* At the beginning of the week, Murray pledged to donate $50 for every birdie he made during the tournament. Murray changed the amount to $100 for every birdie recorded on Sunday. In total Murray made 18 birdies this week and decided to donate $2,000 to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
* Murray’s finishes in the first three Finals events
W/D DAP Championship $0 3 Albertsons Boise Open $68,000 1 Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship $180,000
* Murray’s 12-under-par 272 total falls two strokes shy of the Harris English’s tournament-record 14-under 270 (2011).
About Grayson Murray HEIGHT: 6-1 WEIGHT: 190 BIRTHDATE: October 1, 1993 BIRTHPLACE/RESIDENCE: Raleigh, North Carolina EDUCATION: Arizona State University TURNED PROFESSIONAL: 2015 JOINED TOUR: 2016
* Australian Cameron Smith secured a TOUR card with his runner-up performance in Columbus. Smith’s $108,000 vaulted him up the Finals money list to No. 4. The 23-year-old posted just three top-25s in his sophomore season on TOUR and finished No. 157 in the FedExCup standings.
* Cody Gribble made $35,125 for his T5 in Columbus and is in a tie for 19th place on the Finals money list with Kelly Kraft. Gribble played holes six through 12 in 7-under-par. He started the day with two bogeys and added two more on the back nine. His last birdie came at the par-4 16th which placed him in a four-way tie for fifth.
* After finishing the Regular Season No. 27 on the money list, Kevin Tway secured his TOUR card with a T3 at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship. Tway carded a final round 67 to move inside the top five and earned $58,000 for his performance.
* Other notables to earn TOUR cards in Columbus are Will MacKenzie ($67,500), Xander Schauffele ($42,395) and Ryan Blaum ($49,100). Schauffele ended the Regular Season No. 26 on the money list and has turned up the heat during the Finals. Blaum has played his best during the Finals and recorded a T5 in Boise and a T18 in Columbus. MacKenzie has posted two top 10s in the finals (T6 – DAP Championship; T5 – Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship).
Scoring Average for the Scarlet Course for the week:
Front (36) Back (35) Total (71) Cumulative
R1: 35.819 34.976 70.795 ----
R2: 36.120 35.096 71.216 70.998
R3: 36.500 35.091 71.591 71.195
R4 36.348 34.697 71.045 71.158