0

Fla.'s Vargas conquers Stonebridge; Albany's Broadaway finishes T-4th

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- As predicted by most of the golfers in the field, it took a score lower than 20-under to win the Hooters Tour Michelob Ultra Classic at Stonebridge Golf & Country Club.

But James Vargas was the only guy to get there.

Vargas, a Miami native and former University of Florida star, fired a final-round 65 on Sunday and finished 21-under. He caught fire on the back nine -- nailing birdies on three of his final four holes -- and never looked back en route to the $28,000 payday.

But to get to the top of the mountain for his second career win, Vargas had to deal with the constant pressure of local Albany pro Josh Broadaway, who came oh-so-close to winning on his home course before ending in a tie for fourth, despite a great round of 6-under Sunday.

"We were playing behind Josh and those guys. I could hear the roars from their gallery, so I knew they were making a run," Vargas said. "But that's what you play for. You want to be in the heat of the battle."

Broadaway, a Nationwide Tour regular who earned $7,310 for his efforts Sunday in his first Hooters Tour event in five years, was naturally bummed he didn't give his gallery of followers even more reason to celebrate -- other than the fact they finally had a chance to watch him play live. After all, his Nationwide schedule takes him all over the country, and rarely ever stops in the Southeast.

"I'm definitely disappointed," said Broadaway, who added that he wished he could've replayed Hole No. 17. "When I bogeyed 17, I kind of knew it was over. You always want to win, but you really want to win when you're playing at home and in front of so many of your friends and family. But I take a lot of positives out of the week and it's a good confidence builder going into (the Nationwide Tour event at) Valdosta in two weeks."

Broadaway, who has conditional status on the Nationwide Tour this season, received a sponsor's exemption to play the South Georgia Classic in Valdosta. And should he manage to make the cut, the reshuffling of the circuit (done after every five events on the Nationwide Tour) should allow him to rejoin the tour for at least the next five events.

And after such a strong showing this week, he said Sunday that he has little doubt he's on his way.

"I played solid and I had a great week, man. A really great week. I'm buddies with a lot of the guys on the (Hooters Tour) still, and it was great to see a lot of the guys who were running the tour when I came up still out there this week," he said. "And it was great to come home and play, and get a chance to see a lot of people from Albany that I either don't see that much anymore (because I'm always traveling) or haven't seen in a while. It's always cool when you have the community come out to support you.

"I saw a big crowd (at No. 9) in the clubhouse of about 50 or 60 people that were cheering me on, and then I had about 20 or 30 troopers who walked the whole course and followed me (every step of the way)."

Day 2 leader Kyle Ellis, of Senatobia, Miss., finished second behind Vargas at 20-under and took home $13,180. He was in Broadaway's group and said the gallery of supporters for the local Albany pro made Sunday as fun as any golf tournament he's been a part of.

"It wasn't hard to focus at all (with them cheering Josh on) because they were really good about showing love to everybody," said Ellis, who fired a final-round score of 65 like Vargas, but came up just short after he was one shot back of Vargas and fellow third-round leader Brent Schwarzrock (St. Simons Island) to start the day. "The atmosphere Sunday made it feel like a real final round of a golf tournament (at the highest level). I was really proud of myself for hanging in there and making a lot of birdies, but James played great and the tournament was a lot of fun. So no regrets."

Vargas certainly doesn't have any.

He was tied for the lead after the third round with Schwarzrock -- who finished tied for fourth -- and never relented.

And more importantly, his putter didn't let him down when it counted most.

"The only deficiency I've had in my game this year has been my putting," Vargas said. "I wasn't trying to force any putts this week. And sometimes when you just let things happen, it all comes together."

Yet, his chances looked shaky early when Vargas quickly saw his lead evaporate on the front nine as Matt Boyd, of Sugarland, Texas, opened with a 4-under 32 to take the lead at the turn.

Boyd, a Virginia Tech alumnus, continued his onslaught on the backside, making four birdies in five holes to move to 8-under par for the round and three shots ahead of Vargas.

But Vargas stayed calm.

"I was three shots back with four to play, and I knew all I could do was to try to make birdies," Vargas said.

And he did.

Vargas birdied the Par-4 15th hole to close the gap on Boyd and then curled in a 30-footer for birdie on No. 16 to pull within one shot of the lead. And when Boyd carded a double bogey on No. 17, Vargas knocked in his third birdie in as many holes to move out front for good.

"You never want to see guys have problems," Vargas said of Boyd's double bogey. "But I've been on both sides of that."

Chris Paisley (Gray, Tenn.) finished sixth, while Lee Williams (Alexander City, Ala.) finished seventh. Chris Wolfe (Niceville, Fla.), Brent Long (Carthage, Tenn.), Danny Ellis (Heathrow, Fla.), Patrick Wilkes-Krier (Orlando, Fla.) and Hudson Johnson (Longview, Texas) all finished tied for eighth.

The Hooters Tour event in Albany marked the first time since 2006 that pro golf's developmental circuit returned to Southwest Georgia. And after a great week of golf, Hooters Tour Regional Tournament Director Frank Monk said the chances are good for an encore.

"I think we definitely would love to get back to making this a regular event," he said. "Based on the feedback we got from the players, it was a great week and everyone had a really good time. We can't thank Stonebridge and Albany enough for their hospitality."

--------------------------------------------

Hooters Tour Media Relations Director Paul Warner contributed to this report