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May 5, 2014

Barber wins eighth South Georgia Classic

VALDOSTA — Blayne Barber didn’t know.

Not when he made five birdies through the first 11 holes Sunday at Kinderlou Forest Golf Club. And not when adversity struck on the back nine, like when his drive on the final hole of the South Georgia Classic landed on the wrong side of a cart path for the second straight day.

No. The former Auburn standout, who was born in Tallahassee, Fla., and grew up in Lake City, didn’t realize he had won the eighth annual event until he sank his par putt on the 18th and he asked his caddie.

“I didn’t look at a scoreboard all day, so I’m just now kind of realizing it,” Barber said after shooting a 15-under that won the Classic by two strokes for his first Tour victory and second professional win. It was also one shot shy of the tournament record.

“I usually look at leaderboards a lot and am worried about where I’m at. Today, I didn’t. I just worried about playing golf, committing to my shot and I was able to do that today for the first time in a very long time.

“I tapped in on 18, asked where I was and found out. I asked my caddie, he said we were two ahead and I was like, ‘OK, that’s a good spot to be.’”

It capped a round where Barber answered when the adversity came. Following his early birdie binge, which

 included a 60-foot putt from the back fringe on the sixth hole, Barber’s struggles with his driver proved costly on the 12th hole. With his tee shot landing in the hazard, Barber recorded a double-bogey and dropped back into a tie at 13-under with Adam Webb, who was making his Tour debut and faded down the stretch with four bogeys on the back nine causing him to finish at 9-under, tied for eighth.

“I just tried to stay patient all day,” he said. “I just kept repeating a Bible verse from Proverbs that said, “Commit your work for the Lord and your plans will be established.’

“I just tried to commit on every shot and be patient out there.”

But he regrouped, answering with birdies on 14 and 16 and then having an answer when his driver went wayward again on the 18th tee. A day after fearing his tee shot was out of bounds and taking a provisional, Barber again sent his tee shot across the cart path running down the left side of the fairway and near the spectator entrance for the tournament.

The scare from a day earlier, though, turned into a blessing. The shots were in essentially the same spot and after rebounding with a birdie Saturday, Barber had no fear that the mishap was going to cost him the tournament, even one he didn’t realize he was leading.

“My driver was the issue today,” he said. “So on 18 I just hit it and when I found out it was inbounds, I knew that I had made birdie from that exact spot yesterday. I just collected myself and hit a good shot that gave me an easy two-putt.”

And it didn’t, either, as he drilled his shot onto the green and calmly finished out with a par.

Regrouping from adversity, though, is nothing new for Barber.

Two years ago at qualifying school, Barber assessed a penalty stroke on himself for moving a leaf, while setting up for a shot in a bunker. After advancing to the next stage and it weighing on him, Barber called the Tour and learned it should have been a two-stroke penalty and was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. Last year, a stroke back through 36 holes, Barber again was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard after seeing a different score on the leaderboard. Then, earlier this season, he accidentally left the scoring tent in Brazil without signing his card and was disqualified.

Those mishaps no longer mattered Sunday.

“I feel like I’m not really good at overcoming adversity. But I feel like the reason I came out on top today is I took my hands off the steering wheel a little bit and just played golf,” Barber said.

“The things that have happened, they happened. It’s not like I tried to make them happen, they were just freak accidents. Not every single time, they get caught or the scorer tells you that you didn’t sign. They were mistakes, but I can’t go back and change them.”

Barber’s expert handling of crisis management overshadowed the performance of Alex Prugh, who also climbed the leaderboard Sunday. Tied for seventh entering the day, Prugh didn’t start his climb until he birdied the par-3 eighth. He then added three straight birdies to open the back nine and added one more on the 16th to finish a round of 67 that left him 13-under.

But it wasn’t quite enough.

“The back nine was a lot more simple, which honestly I like and feel like I can just play golf,” Prugh said. “I never got in trouble that often.

“I just wish it was just two or three better.”

Still it was a strange day for Prugh, who didn’t feel like he played that well. Yet, he assembled one of the best rounds and finished second for the tournament.

“Early on in the day I was scrambling for pars and not really feeling all that good,” he added. “I still didn’t feel that good about my golf swing or my putting or anything really all day.

“I pushed a nice 5-iron on No. 8 and pulled a putt to left-center, so a push and a pull make it perfect I guess.”

Prugh also didn’t realize where he stood on the leaderboard, although his wasn’t exactly for a lack of trying. Rather, anytime he caught a glimpse of the leaderboard he learned of a tournament sponsor instead of the Classic leader.

“Every time I kind of looked at a board, it was going through sponsors and I was like, ‘Eh, I’m getting decent-ish,” he said. “I honestly didn’t know that I needed a birdie on the last hole to possibly tie or to have a better chance until I looked up on the 18th and saw that leader was at 14.

“I don’t care if I look at the board, I just never had the opportunity where it was saying it right there for you. I saw that Jimmy John’s was a sponsor, KFC. I kind of got happy about the Jimmy John’s.”

But not as happy as Barber.

“It’s a good feeling,” he said. “I know the feeling in this game of succeeding is fleeting, and when I get in my car I will be on to next week.

“But I’m very grateful to have gotten my first win here in Valdosta.”

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