April 29, 2013

Wilcox cruises to Classic win

April 29, 2013 Ed Hooper The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Will Wilcox had just made bogey on two of his last four holes. He stood in the fairway of the par-4 seventh, 135 yards away from the flag. He hit a wedge, landing the ball just feet from the pin. Then it started to roll, eventually landing in the bottom of the cup. It was an eagle.

 Wilcox watched as it rolled in, sending out a loud roar of excitement, one usually associated with Tiger Woods after he sinks a tournament-clinching putt on the 18th green. He fist-pumped with his caddie and turned to acknowledge the crowd that cheered and hollered with him.

 For Wilcox, his eagle shot on No. 7 was the ultimate difference Sunday, giving him enough strokes to account for his double bogey on the par-5 11th, as he went on to win the South Georgia Classic presented by First State Bank and Trust Company by four strokes Sunday afternoon.

 “I was relaxed until I snaked it off 11; I hit two balls into the hazard on that hole so that was the only time I was extremely nervous,” Wilcox said. “When I knew I had five shots with four to play, it was pretty chill.”

 Zack Sucher, D.J. Brigman and Michael Putnam finished tied for second at 11-under, while three golfers finished tied for fifth at 10-under. While Sucher shot the lowest round of the day, to move into second place, it was Wilcox who owned the day.

 He started Sunday’s final round with a tournament-record 7-stroke lead after posting his 9-under 63 on Saturday and he drew the largest hole-to-hole crowd than any other golfer, with spectators walking all 18 holes of the course to take a look at the guy that captivated onlookers with his impressive performance just a day earlier.

 With some strokes to play with on Sunday, Wilcox’s lead shrank to four shots within his first six holes, because of bogeys on the par-4 third and par-3 sixth. Then his eagle happened and his lead shot back to six strokes and allowed him to cruise to his first-career Web.com Tour victory.

 “At four shots with 12 holes to play, it doesn’t sound very good,” said Wilcox, who also made eagle from the fairway on the 12th hole during Saturday’s round. “But six with 11 is a lot better. I don’t even know what to say. I can’t believe I holed two shots on the weekend. It is mind blowing.”

 Like he was Saturday, Wilcox was loose and didn’t refrain from interacting with the group of spectators making the walk with him and playing partner Ryan Spears. They two young up-and-coming players chatted throughout their round, including when they got to the tee box on the par-3 sixth, when they had to wait for nearly 10 minutes for the group ahead of them to clear the green.

 His loose, charismatic personality showed through his game. He popped his collar, laughed and even joked with Spears when he outdrove his driver shot by using a hybrid on the third hole.

 It was hard to tell that Wilcox barely slept the night before, failing to turn off his mind, sitting at the hotel and constantly checking his Facebook and Twitter accounts.

With the win, Wilcox received a check for $117,000, moving him into third on the Web.com Tour’s money list and putting him into position to finish inside the top 25 at the end of the season and earn his PGA Tour card.

 “It is ridiculous,” Wilcox said. “I don’t even know what to say. I have just made some really big changes in my life and that is just what I need to do. Since Jan. 4, that is the day, the day that started all of this.”

 Wilcox didn’t go into too much depth on what those life changes were, besides moving from Alabama to the Caribbean — and besides admitting that he was partying and drinking too much alcohol — but he did admit that he wouldn’t be where he was Sunday, standing with a giant check and a glass trophy, without turning his life around.

 “This year has been a gift from God every day,” Wilcox said. “Literally, I am so much more positive and happy. And everything is so much more easy now and everything has just fallen into place. I can’t believe it…it was a massive 180. I have slowed down on the boozing and such. That is the key. If you watch guys like Adam Scott (the 2013 Masters Champion), I doubt he is out having nights out all the time. That is the main thing.”

 Wilcox’s day started with a par on No. 1, before he made birdie on the par-4 No. 2, launching a 370-yard drive down the middle, which allowed him to use an 8-iron into the green. After a bogey on No. 3, Wilcox used perfect drives down the middle to make par on Nos. 4 and 5 before a bogey on No. 6 preceded his eagle from the fairway on No. 7.

 After pars on Nos. 8, 9, 10, Wilcox double bogeyed No. 11 after hitting two shots into the boundary.

 He responded with a birdie on No. 12, five straight pars and a bogey on No. 18, which didn’t matter because he had the tournament wrapped up and fans cheering him the whole way down the final fairway.

“Once I had an 8-footer (on No. 16) and I saw the scoreboard, I was good to go,” Wilcox said. “It was sweet. I have been dreaming of it my whole life, so here we are.”

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