Golf

Wichita Open: Vegas, baby, Vegas

As some of the critical moments in Sunday's final round of the Wichita Open unfolded at sun-baked Crestview Country Club, Jhonattan Vegas kicked up his feet in the air-conditioned players' lounge and chatted with his caddie.

"I didn't really pay attention to what was happening out there," Vegas said.

Yes, things really were different this year for the 25-year-old Venezuelan.

Wobbly as the 54-hole leader in the 2009 tournament, Vegas played like a riverboat gambler Sunday from back in the pack. He fired a sizzling 64 to get to 20 under par for the tournament, then collected his first Nationwide Tour victory when the final 14 golfers on the course failed to catch him.

Vegas overcame a six-shot deficit — the same Sunday margin Chris Tidland erased in charging past Vegas to win last year's Wichita Open — to claim the $103,500 champion's check. His 64 was the lowest Sunday score by a Wichita Open winner. By vaulting from 28th to seventh on the Nationwide money list, Vegas also secured a 2011 PGA Tour card.

"I don't want to turn on my phone right now because I know it's going to explode as soon as I do," said Vegas, a University of Texas graduate who tied for fourth at Crestview a year ago after carding a final-round 74. "I have a great group of friends and family that support me. I'm sure they're as happy as I am right now."

Vegas, who signed his scorecard while the final group lined up putts on the 12th green, got interested in the leaderboard as third-round leader Roberto Castro and Steven Bowditch reached the 17th green. When Bowditch electrified the crowd at the 202-yard par 3 by rattling in a birdie, he and Castro headed to the par-5 18th one shot behind Vegas.

"I went to warm up because I was almost sure we were going to go to a playoff," Vegas said.

Instead, the 520-yard finale, which yielded 279 birdies and 28 eagles during the tournament, got stubborn. Bowditch, who recovered from a stunning bogey at the par-5 14th with birdies at Nos. 16 and 17, hit his tee shot out of bounds to the right, effectively ending his chance to catch Vegas. He three-putt for a double bogey that capped a 1-over 72 and dropped him from second into a seven-way tie for fourth.

Castro, who started the day with a one-shot lead over Bowditch at 19 under, flared a 4-iron second shot right of the 18th green. Needing to get up and down to tie Vegas, his third shot landed inches from the cup and rolled 20 feet away. His left-to-right birdie putt cut just in front of the hole, giving Vegas the victory.

"It played harder today," said Castro, who shot a 71 after opening with rounds of 64, 63 and 67. "The wind was higher. The pins were tougher on the front especially.

"On the back, you had some chances, but I made a 6 on the easiest hole on the course (No. 14), so that didn't help."

Vegas understood Castro's frustration. Last year, he was the story of the tournament for three days, then was sent reeling by an opening-hole double bogey on Sunday.

"To win a golf tournament, you have to have a little luck," Vegas said. "You need things to go your way.

"For Roberto, who has been playing so well all week, not to shoot under par, I wasn't expecting that."

Like Tidland last year, Vegas hovered close enough to the lead for three days to adopt an aggressive mindset for the final round. Go-for-broke drives at the par-4 third and seventh holes led to birdies. As Castro and Bowditch struggled to move forward on the front nine, Vegas took the lead for the first time with a tap-in birdie at No. 14.

Vegas nearly holed an eagle chip on the final hole. He gave a fist pump after holing out for birdie to cap a bogey-free round.

"Something that I learned last year is that when you have the lead, you cannot lay back," Vegas said. "You've got to stick to your gameplan and just execute.

"I was trying to hold back a little bit and play a little safe (last year). Here on this tour, you cannot do that. There's always going to be someone who's going to shoot low on Sunday."

Castro, bidding for a full-time spot on tour with a victory, settled for $62,100 as the runner-up and a spot in this week's Price Cutter Charity Championship in Springfield, Mo.

"I take a lot of good," Castro said. "I played in the last group the last two days and had the lead most of this tournament.

"My thinking was clear. I was calm all day. And I'm going to get to play some tournaments on a regular basis."

Notes — Colt Knost, the 2007 U.S. Amateur champion, shot a 68 to finish third at 18 under.... Nick Rousey and Kyle Thompson posted 63s on Sunday. There were nine 63s in the tournament.... The top six on the Nationwide money list remained the same after the Wichita Open.... Former Kansas State golfer Aaron Watkins carded a 2-over 73 and finished 62nd.

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