Local Golf Prodigy Wins New Zealand Open

QUEENSTOWN, New Zealand (AP) — American Alex Prugh won the New Zealand Open on Sunday for his first Nationwide Tour title, pulling away with his second eagle of the round and finishing three strokes ahead of countryman Martin Piller.

The 24-year-old former University of Washington player finished with an 8-under 64 for a 19-under 269 total on The Hills course. He earned $108,000 in the event also sanctioned by the Australasian tour.

“If anything, this builds a lot of confidence for me,” Prugh said. “The last time I felt nerves like that might have been at the Pacific Coast Amateur in 2005, but there were no leader boards there and we were playing in front of 30 people, not the thousands we had out here. I definitely thought I’d be more nervous coming down the stretch.”

Prugh, who joined Corey Pavin (1984 and 1985) as the only Americans champions in the event first played in 1907, made a 25-foot eagle putt on the par-5 17th to take a four-stroke lead. He also eagled the par-4 eighth, holing a pitching wedge.

“That one really kick-started my round,” Prugh said about the unexpected eagle on No. 8. “I thought, now we can really go.”

He had four birdies in a back-nine 30, and played the final 10 holes in 8 under on the scenic course.

“Where I grew up in eastern Washington, near the Idaho border, it looked a lot like this place,” said Prugh, from Spokane. “There were some lakes and some ski resorts in the area. I’ve felt more at home here than anyplace we’ve been on tour so far.”

Prugh took the lead with a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-3 16th, then wrapped it up with the eagle on 17.

“I hit a great 3-wood in there. I knew there was plenty of green and grass to the right and the only place I couldn’t miss was left,” Prugh said. “That putt was uphill, breaking on a tier. I played it about 4 feet outside. When it got close, I saw it was dead center.”

Piller, the third-round leader, shot a 68. The 23-year-old former Texas A&M player was making his fourth career Nationwide Tour start.

“It’s a little disappointing that I didn’t get it done, but I gave it everything I had,” Piller said. “I didn’t leave anything in the bag. When you shoot 64 like that, you’re going to win some tournaments. My hat’s off to Alex.”

American Jim Herman had a 68 to finish third at 14 under. American Jeff Gove (70) and New Zealand’s Josh Geary (71) were 12 under along with Australians Craig Parry (69), Peter Senior (68), Andrew Bonhomme (66) and Stephen Dartnall (68).

Richard Johnson aced the par-4 15th, only the second hole-in-one on a par 4 in Nationwide Tour history. Steven Jeffress also made a hole-in-one on the hole during the 2007 New Zealand Open, an event sanctioned by the Australasian and European tours.

Johnson’s hole-in-one on the 347-yard hole vaulted him from 10 under to 13 under and just two shots off the lead at the time. He bogeyed the next two holes and finished with a 70 to tie for 10th at 11 under.

“I just aimed for the gap in the traps and smashed it as hard as I could,” Johnson said. “I figured if I hit it really good I’d have a chance to get it in that back corner. I never saw it. It’s too far but I heard the crowd go nuts.”

Johnson will receive a pallet of beer from tournament sponsor Heineken, or 125 dozen bottles, which multiplies out to 1,500 bottles.

“I wonder if it will last more than a couple of weeks,” Johnson said. “I didn’t know how much a pallet was. I just knew it was more than a case.”