RIO GRANDE, Puerto Rico (AP) — Derek Lamely had to contend with a rain-delayed start, slow play on a soggy course, and tamping down his inevitable nerves as he inched closer to notching his first win as a rookie on the PGA Tour.
But the 29-year-old American emerged out of the pack with easygoing style, shooting a 66 Monday to win the Puerto Rico Open by two strokes.
He finished at 19-under-par 269, setting a tournament record at Trump International Golf Club-Puerto Rico, a scenic palm-fringed 7,526-yard course which was deluged by rain early in the competition.
Kris Blanks shot a 69 and finished alone in second at 271.
“I just kept on trying to make birdies, I kept on trying to be aggressive,” said Lamely, who teed off on No. 10 in the final round, the first player to win in that position since Keith Clearwater at the 1987 Colonial Invitational.
The victory was worth $630,000 to Lamely along with PGA playing privileges through 2012.
Holding up a crystal trophy, Lamely was thrilled to hold back a field of challengers whom he was playing nine holes ahead of, no matter if the world’s top-ranked players were on the U.S. mainland were at the World Golf Championship stop, the CA Championships.
“I’m still a rookie out here, even though I just won. There’s tons I can learn still,” he said.
Lamely vaulted up the leaderboard during Sunday’s third round by shooting a course record 9-under 63.
“I knew if I kept playing well and I kept trying to make birdies, I knew I would get within striking distance,” said Lamely, who was four strokes behind third-round leader Kevin Streelman entering the final round.
On his last hole on Monday, the par-4 450-yard ninth, Lamely’s chances appeared to take a hit; his tee ball sailed some 10 feet out-of-bounds, with two small palm trees just ahead. But he lifted the ball with his 8-iron, dropping it on the sloping green some 20 feet from the pin.
His first putt left the ball about a foot away and he dropped it for par. He broke out in a grin as he shook hands with the golfers in his grouping, Sweden’s Peter Gustafsson and Argentina’s Daniel Barbetti.
Then the waiting game began.
Lamely, who finished at 1:30 p.m., had to watch his competitors for more than two hours to see if he’d be overtaken or forced into a playoff. He watched the TV broadcast with his caddy from the tournament’s media room as dozens of players congregated outside the clubhouse, getting ready to head to the airport.
But nobody was steadier than Lamely, who tied for 13th at last year’s Puerto Rico Open as a Monday qualifier.
“He was kind of like the carrier we were all trying to chase and just couldn’t catch him,” said Blanks, who made two bogeys all week.
Blanks’ previous best finish on tour came in 2009 in his rookie season when he finished tied for seventh at the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee.
Steve Wheatcroft finished at 16 under, tied for third with Streelman, Brendon de Jonge, and James Nitties.
Heavy rain driven by switching winds suspended play early in the competition, forcing organizers to extend the tournament to Monday. Under the saturated conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place balls in the fairway.
Greens and fairways first began to dry out Saturday under a day of strong Caribbean sunshine. The maintenance crew worked nights with squeegees and pumps to sop up the water.
Lamely, who said he spent much of the first two days of the rain-delayed event in his hotel bed, relaxed between rounds by fishing off the coastal course. He said he hooked a few tarp, but it was clear he landed the big one when he won the third Puerto Rico Open on the challenging par-72 course.
“It’s just a fun golf course. You can be very creative and you can play well,” he said. “And the golf course can get you, too, real quick.”