Crestview remains true Vegas hot spot

Jhonattan Vegas played golf at Crestview Country Club on Tuesday for the first time since the final round of the 2009 Wichita Open.

The burly Venezuelan's broad smile suggested any demons from that fateful Sunday have long been exorcised.

"It was great," Vegas said after his practice round for the $575,000 Nationwide Tour event, which begins Thursday on Crestview's North course. "This is a place where I feel real, real comfortable."

Vegas, 25, tied for fourth in his first Wichita Open, the best finish at that point of his brief professional career. But after racing to the top of the leaderboard with rounds of 64, 67 and 66, Vegas stumbled to a 3-over-par 74 in the final round, allowing Chris Tidland to rally for the victory.

Vegas' two-shot lead quickly disappeared that day when his approach shot from the rough at the first hole skipped over the green and out of bounds, leading to a double-bogey.

"It was part of a learning process," said Vegas, who hadn't started a round in a pro tournament in first place before he got to Crestview. "That's kind of the way I see it.

"It's like being in the first round of a boxing game and getting knocked out. It's kind of hard to fight after a punch like that. But I played and I played hard. Things just didn't go my way."

Vegas, who played collegiately at Texas, added another top-10 finish toward the end of his rookie season and placed 63rd on the Nationwide money list. This season, he has made the cut in eight of 13 tournaments and is 28th with $105,459 in earnings.

That includes a second-place finish at the South Georgia Classic in April. Vegas played his way into the final threesome in the final round and shot a 1-under 71, one shot behind champion Ewan Porter.

Entering last week's Cox Classic in Omaha, Vegas was 25th on the money list. The top 25 at the end of the season will earn 2011 PGA Tour cards.

"I definitely do keep an eye on it, but it doesn't really make a difference when it comes down to playing," Vegas said. "My goal at the start of the season was to finish in the top 25 and get a PGA Tour card, but I really just want to come out every single round and play as good as I can."

That's where three days of good vibes at Crestview — even 12 months ago — can come in handy. Vegas preached many of the same words about Crestview on Tuesday that he did in his previous visit.

"It's a course where long hitters like myself can take advantage of a lot of the holes," Vegas said. "Instead of having to hit into some narrow areas, we can hit it past those and have easier shots into the green.

"It's still a tough course though, especially if the wind blows. You have to be able to really fly the ball well in those situations, and I love that."

Vegas toured Crestview on Tuesday with veteran golfer Esteban Toledo. He said Toledo helped him move past his final-round disappointment last year in Wichita.

"He really wanted me to win, but when I didn't, he just told me I did a great job and it's a learning experience," Vegas said. "He said, 'I know you're one of the best ones out here. You've just got to keep your head up.'

"It's good to have people around you who make you feel good and keep you motivated, and hit you in the head every once in a while to make sure you're doing things the right way."

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