Tour veteran Rod Pampling has surged to his first PGA Tour victory in 220 starts dating back more than a decade.
The 47-year-old birdied four of his last six holes to card a superb six under 65 in the final round to reach 20 under 264 and win the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas by two strokes from big-hitting American Brooks Koepka.
The Queenslander slammed the door on the field when he rolled in a 32-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole. With the ball inching its way closer to the cup, Pampling raised his arms in triumph.
Pampling last won on the PGA Tour at the 2006 Bay Hill Invitational and in recent years has played more on the secondary Web.com Tour in a bid to get back to the main Tour. With this victory, he will cash a cheque for $A1.5 million, but more importantly he is now exempt on the PGA Tour through to his 50th birthday in September 2019. Then he will be eligible to play the PGA Tour Champions. He has also booked a spot at next year’s Masters at Augusta National, an event he hasn’t played since 2007, and the PGA Championship, which he has not been eligible for since 2009.
The former Caboolture Golf Club greenkeeper laid the foundation for this remarkable victory in the opening round when he tore around the TPC Summerlin course in a record 11 under 60, which included seven birdies and two eagles.
It was reminiscent of the hot final round he pieced together at last year’s Emirates Australian Open when he stormed into a top-four finish with a closing 10 under 61, which gained him a start at the Open Championship at Royal Troon earlier this year.
Despite the early good form shown in Las Vegas, he dropped from the top of the leaderboard after 54 holes and, along with Koepka, trailed former US Open champion Lucas Glover by a single stroke.
But Pampling didn’t take the foot off the accelerator despite having not been in the mix on Sunday for so long. He birdied four times on the outward nine – at the 4th, 6th, 8th and 9th holes – to get to 18 under and the outright lead with nine holes to play.
He suffered setbacks with bogies at the 10th and 12th holes but he reclaimed those dropped shots with birdies at the 13th and 14th holes. At the short par-4 15th, he smashed his tee shot through the back of the green but was able to get up-and-down for another birdie, which kept him tied for the lead at 19 under with Glover.
The turning point came at the par-3 17th hole when Glover mis-hit his tee shot and found a bunker well short of the putting surface. He was unable to get the sand save and his bogey left Pampling one shot in front with the final hole to play.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man … Pampling striped his drive down the 18th fairway and flew his second shot approach onto the back of the putting surface, while Glover’s chance to catch Pampling with a birdie ended when he missed the green with his second shot. Pampling had two putts from 32 feet for the win but rolled in the birdie – his eighth of the day – to stamp an exclamation point on the victory.
"It's extremely rewarding," Pampling said. "Winning Arnold Palmer's event (Bay Hill) is still on top. But coming back from what we've had the last few years, to get a win under the belt, it's phenomenal. Amazing."
Pampling last hoisted a trophy of any note at the 2008 Australian Masters. This win was his third on the PGA Tour and he says he never lost the belief he could win again on the game’s biggest stage.
"It's self-belief," said Pampling, who joins Aaron Baddeley, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Greg Chalmers as PGA Tour event winners in 2016. "And grinding on the Web Tour gives you confidence you can compete against the younger guys."