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June 10, 2007

Courtesy, PGA TOUR

Raleigh, N.C. – Relief. Perhaps no word better describes the feeling Kyle Thompson felt as his golf ball disappeared into the hole for the final time on Sunday at the Rex Hospital Open. Four years of close calls and painful losses were all in the past, and Thompson was finally a champion on the Nationwide Tour.

“It is hard to put into words,” said Thompson. “It has always been a dream of mine to win on the Nationwide Tour. To finally get this win is huge.”

Thompson’s 1-under 70 moved him to 16-under 268, two strokes ahead of Bob Burns (68) and four ahead of Rick Price (67).
It was nothing short of a dominating performance for Thompson this week at the Tournament Players Club Wakefield Plantation. He shared the lead with two others after a 7-under 64 on Thursday, and then moved out front for good with birdies on three of the first four holes on Friday on his way to a 6-under 65. Things got interesting on Sunday, with Burns trimming a four-shot deficit at the beginning of the day to just one with three holes to play. Thompson was not to be denied, however, playing steady down the stretch with a birdie and six pars on the final seven holes to pull out the two-shot win.

“My wedge game today was as bad as it has been all year but my chipping and putting were as good as they have been in my life,” said Thompson, who ended the day with just 27 putts. “I was hoping to make it easy on myself down the stretch but it was anything but easy.”

Burns was one back heading into the par-5 18th hole, but an errant 5-wood found the hazard and led to a bogey. Thompson chipped to within a foot of the hole and tapped in for an easy par and a long-awaited victory.
“Bob really put the heat on me today,” said Thompson, who hit 12 of 14 fairways and 10 of 18 greens in regulation. “He was hitting every shot perfect and stuffing it close on the back nine. To hit shots when I had to coming down the stretch makes this even more special.”

If doubts were ever going to creep into the mind of a frontrunner, then Sunday would have been the day. It marked the sixth time in Thompson’s career that he had held the lead heading into a final round, but somehow victory had eluded him in five previous tries. Despite the near misses, his resume has been stellar, with four runner-up finishes among nine top-5 finishes. He can finally add a win to that list.

“I wouldn’t say it has been a struggle but it has been a journey to get to this point and finally win,” said Thompson, who wins in his 120th career Tour start. “Every time I’ve been in contention I’ve played pretty solid, but I’ve never had that 5- or 6-under round to finish up with.”

Thompson can now move on to his ultimate goal of trying to garner one of the 25 PGA TOUR cards to be handed out at the end of the 2007 season. Had that many cards been available earlier in his career (the number increased from 20 to 25 this year), Thompson would have graduated to the TOUR long ago.

He came painfully close in 2003 – teeing it up in the Nationwide Tour Championship in the 20th spot only to finish 25th. Things were even tougher the following season. Despite six top-10 and two runner-up finishes, he ended the year No. 22 on the money list. A combined $10,803 is all that separated Thompson from his ultimate goal – coming up $5,955 short in 2003 and $4,848 shy in 2004.

“I’d love to move to the PGA TOUR but I’ve always wanted to move up with a win under my belt,” said Thompson, who collects $81,000 and moves to No. 15 among The 25. “A win gives you security if things don’t go as you plan out there. Now I want to win two more. I’ve always thought if I could get the first one, the others would be easier.”

Making things even tougher for Thompson was watching many of his friends collect their PGA TOUR ticket via the Nationwide Tour over the last few years. Many of those were players Thompson not only competed against, but defeated, on his way to becoming a three-time All-American at the University of South Carolina.

“I used to win a lot as a kid and then I won five times in college,” said Thompson, the only player in history to win two NCAA Regionals. “But I haven’t won anything since my senior year in college. I’d love to get used to it (winning) again.”

Incidentally, it was a PGA TOUR start earlier this year that gave Thompson the confidence he needed to step up his game. He got off to a horrid start on Tour this season, missing the cut in seven of his first 10 starts, with a tie for 26th place at the Henrico County Open his best outing. But despite early struggles, he remained confident, and a 25th-place finish at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am was a big reason why.

“It was important to pay for my engagement ring,” said Thompson, laughing. “Seriously though, it was a great week to show that I could play with those guys. It gives me confidence to know when I get there, I can compete.”

Based on his play the last few weeks, it won’t be long before he has that chance.