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Ward rallies in final round to win Pro-Am title

Published 8/8/2011 in Pro-Am

By BRETT MARSHALL

bmarshall@gctelegram.com

When Chris Ward was finishing his bachelor's degree this spring at Texas Tech University, he played in his first Adams Golf Pro Tour Series event at the Coca-Cola Walmart Open in Alexandria, La.

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Brad Nading/TelegramChris Ward, McKinney, Texas, follows through on a drive off the No. 3 tee box Saturday at The Golf Club at Southwind during the final round of the Southwest Kansas Pro-Am. Ward claimed the 2011 title.

Brad Nading/TelegramChris Ward, McKinney, Texas, follows through on a drive off the No. 3 tee box Saturday at The Golf Club at Southwind during the final round of the Southwest Kansas Pro-Am. Ward claimed the 2011 title.

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Brad Nading/TelegramTodd Rossetti, Plano, Texas, chips on to the No. 2 green Saturday at The Golf Club at Southwind during the final round of the Southwest Kansas Pro-Am. Rossetti finished second in the tourney.

Brad Nading/TelegramTodd Rossetti, Plano, Texas, chips on to the No. 2 green Saturday at The Golf Club at Southwind during the final round of the Southwest Kansas Pro-Am. Rossetti finished second in the tourney.

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Brad Nading/TelegramDerek Tolan, Highlands Ranch, Colo., hits an approach shot from the fairway of the second hole at The Golf Club at Southwind on Saturday during the final round of the Southwest Kansas Pro-Am. Tolan finished third in the tourney.

Brad Nading/TelegramDerek Tolan, Highlands Ranch, Colo., hits an approach shot from the fairway of the second hole at The Golf Club at Southwind on Saturday during the final round of the Southwest Kansas Pro-Am. Tolan finished third in the tourney.

He missed the 36-hole cut.

Just six tournaments and five months later, Ward has now claimed his first win as a professional golfer thanks to a 6-under-par 65 on Saturday in the final round of the 32nd annual Southwest Kansas Pro-Am.

That blistering final round allowed him to overtake 54-hole leader Derek Tolan and Todd Rossetti. Both Tolan and Rossetti shared runner-up honors four shots back of Ward, who finished with rounds of 68-68-66-65--267, 19-under par and four shots clear of the two golfers who were atop the board after Friday's third round.

'There's just not words to express how I'm feeling right now," Ward said. "I would never have thought I would win this quickly. It seems easier than I thought it would be, but in this game I can't get ahead of myself. But I will think about the win more tomorrow and enjoy it."

Ward also tied for first before losing in a sudden death playoff during June's Beaumont (Texas) Open. He now sits at the No. 2 spot on the Adams Golf money list for 2011 with earnings of $22,557.50 after claiming the $15,000 first-place check, which was presented by 5-year-old Ethan Unger, a graduate of the St. Catherine Hospital Newborn Intensive Care Unit, the tournament's primary beneficiary.

Ward ripped through the first nine holes in 5-under-par 30 with birdies coming at the second, third, fifth, eighth and ninth holes.

"I wasn't thinking too far ahead of myself when I got here today," Ward said. "I knew with the conditions we had (negligible wind) that there was a great round out there."

Ward's pinpoint ball-striking allowed him to hit 16-of-18 greens in regulation, missing just two par-3s where he managed to pitch close and make par-saving putts.

Highlights of his round, which was matched by Denver's Charlie Soule, who would finish tied for fifth, came when he knocked an 8-iron to within two inches on the second hole from 155 yards. He nearly aced the 155-yard ninth hole when his ball finished a foot from the hole.

Seeing the leaderboard, Ward knew he had a one-shot lead over Tolan with Rossetti another shot back.

"I didn't have any idea where things stood until there on 10," Ward said. "I like to know where I'm at. Some people don't like to know, but I do."

Ward's lone birdie on the incoming nine came at the par-4 12th when he hit a gap wedge to about eight feet and made the putt. From there, he simply put his game on cruise control.

From the 14th to 18th holes, usually one of the toughest stretches on the course, Ward hit every fairway, every green and never had a birdie putt of more than 20 feet. His closest call to bogey came on the 16th when his birdie putt slid about five feet below the hole, but he knocked that in, too.

For Tolan, of Highlands Ranch, Colo., it was a bitter pill to swallow as he had moved to 17-under-par with nine holes left and right on the heels of Ward.

"For some reason, my game didn't feel that great," said Tolan, who birdied the third, fifth and sixth, but bogeyed the par-3 sixth. "The putter just wasn't working. I couldn't get anything to drop."

His undoing started at the short, par-4 11th where he bogeyed to fall two behind. When Ward birdied the 12th, Tolan's deficit became three.

He made nothing on the final nine and ended the frustrating round of 71 with a bogey on the 18th. He had a 1-shot penalty for an unplayable lie on the par-5 15th when he tried to reach the 564-yarder with a hybrid from 253 yards.

"I just didn't have anything going," Tolan said. "I didn't give myself any good chances. At 15, I knew I needed to make something happen and it just wasn't there. That's the hole I needed to make birdie on to have any chance."

Ironically, Tolan told himself before the round he needed to finish at 20-under-par in order to have a shot at winning after standing at 15-under heading into Saturday. As if looking into a crystal ball, his silent reminder proved to be accurate.

For Rossetti, the final day was much the same as Tolan's.

Nothing really bad, but certainly nothing really great, either.

He got to 16-under-par at the turn with birdies on the first, fourth and seventh but played the two short par-5s in 1-over-par to head to the final nine.

"If you'd told me before the week that I would finish third, I'd have been happy," Rossetti said. "But having been in second, one shot back, and to finish four behind, well, it was a disappointing day."

Any chance the Plano, Texas, resident had of catching Ward ended with a bogey on the par-3 13th. He tumbled from second with a double bogey on the par-4 17th when his tee shot was pulled left into the deep native fescue grasses and he declared it lost, resulting in a 2-shot penalty.

"I just didn't play as well," Rossetti said. "I didn't drive the ball well and I didn't really hit many good shots. Actually, I was probably fortunate to have shot 70 with the way I hit it."

Ben Cuzen of Durban, South Africa, finished solo fourth at 272 while Jonathan Moore of Champions Gate, Fla., and Soule shared fourth at 273, with Moore finishing with a 67.

See results in Scoreboard, Page B2.

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