New name, new feel for Wichita Open
The 2019 Wichita Open went to a record five-man playoff, but an ultimate winner could not be determined by the time darkness fell upon Crestview Country Club late Sunday evening.
Bryan Bigley and Henrik Norlander returned Monday morning to resume the playoff with Norlander claiming the Wichita Open title on the third playoff hole when Bigley’s short par putt on the par-3 17th slid past the hole. The tournament victory secured a return to the PGA Tour for the 32-year-old native from Sweden.
“There’s a lot of relief, obviously it’s been a few rough years,” Norlander said. “I feel like I belong out there and it’s nice to get another crack at it for sure. It’s nice to get some results and validation when the hard work actually pays off.
“I’ve felt confident the past few weeks. I told myself I’m going to put myself into contention this year and win eventually. So, it’s nice to get that off my back.”
Bigley and Norlander each birdied the first playoff hole, No. 17, late Sunday evening, eliminating Kevin Dougherty, Sebastian Cappelen and Erik Compton after all five golfers tied at 15-under 265 following 72 holes. It was the first five-man playoff in Wichita Open history, although there have been 15 four-man playoffs.
“It was always going to be a shootout going to a par-3 in the dark with five guys,” Norlander said. “You never know what could happen.”
On Monday morning, Bigley and Norlander each opened with a par 4 on No. 18, the second playoff hole. Norlander had a good look at birdie on the third playoff hole, but his 18-footer broke just under the hole for a tap-in for par.
But that turned into the winning putt when Bigley could not finish off his lag putt for par, powering it past the left lip. It ended one of the most improbable title runs of the season on the Korn Ferry Tour, as Bigley entered with the 150th-best scoring average out of 151 golfers.
Bigley nearly won the title on late Sunday evening on the first playoff hole when he planted his tee shot on the 186-yard hole 4 feet from the pin.
After Dougherty, Cappelen and Compton missed their birdie attempts, Norlander lined up an 18-foot birdie putt and hit it firm to take out the right-to-left break and sink it. Norlander said afterward that he knew that he had to be aggressive with Bigley staring down a likely birdie himself.
“I knew it was downhill, so we better take some break out of it and go for it,” Norlander said. “I knew someone was going to make it, so we better give it a try.”
Bigley showed no nerves, calmly sinking his birdie putt to force a second playoff hole.
The final two groups of the day produced a thrilling finish down the back nine with Dougherty and Compton in the final group and Norlander, Bigley and Cappelen in the second-to-final group.
Cappelen entered Sunday 2 strokes behind Compton and needed the most work down the stretch. He birdied four of his first five holes on the back 9 to reach 15 under.
It was a bittersweet ending for Cappelen, who was eliminated in the playoff after missing his 20-foot birdie putt but also secured his first PGA Tour card by tying for second place. Cappelen started his Korn Ferry Tour career in Wichita winning the Air Capital Classic in 2014 as a Monday qualifier and he registered his fifth top-10 finish in Wichita in six years.
“It’s with a big smile that I lose, for sure,” Cappelen said. “It’s special doing it here in Wichita. I love this tournament and I love coming back here. Hole 17 is the best hole on the tour. It’s so nice that a tournament knows how to put this on and gives us this experience.
“I remember when I won here back in ‘14 in my first tournament, I was like, ‘Oh, this is a great tour. They know how to do it right out here.’ And then it turns out this is the only tournament that does it like this. But it’s always fun coming back here and experiencing the crowd.”
The most dramatic entry into the five-man playoff was without a doubt Compton, who bogeyed No. 10 to fall 3 strokes behind the leaders. But when the lead group of Bigley, Norlander and Cappelen, who were all tied at 15 under entering the final two holes, could not produce the go-ahead birdie, Compton stuck around.
When his approach shot on No. 18 was just off the green around 25 feet away from the pin, Compton knew he had to go for the chip-in. He did just that, rolling in the birdie to join the party and celebrating by flipping his wedge into the air and tossing his ball into the grandstands.
More drama immediately followed with Dougherty, who was tied for the lead at 15 under, staring down an 18-footer just off the green for birdie on No. 18 and his first career tournament victory. Dougherty correctly read the break, but his putt nestled an inch away from finding its home in the hole.
An inch was all that separated Dougherty from victory and the creation of a five-man playoff.
On the playoff hole, Dougherty missed the green and his desperate chip did not hole out. Cappelen and Compton each missed their lengthy birdie putts, while Norlander drilled his and Bigley holed his 6-foot birdie to force a second playoff hole.
“Obviously, everyone wants to play on the PGA Tour, it’s the best tour in the world,” Norlander said. “But I don’t think this tour gets the credit it deserves. The players out here are so good and the staff does a great job. That’s why it’s so much playing in this tournament. It has a PGA Tour feel. I think this community is completely behind this event and people are out here. This is one of the better events on our tour.”