For the second year in a row, Bud Cauley used the Hotel Fitness Championship as a springboard to the PGA Tour.
Cauley, the 24-year-old former Alabama star, shot a bogey-free 65 Sunday to win the Web.com Tour Finals opener by a shot. With the victory, Cauley is guaranteed to earn his PGA Tour card for the 2014-15 season.
“After having to sit at home for a while, it was nice to come out and play well and get my first win as a pro,” he said.
A year ago, Cauley’s T-5 in Fort Wayne eventually was enough to secure one of the top 25 cards available via the Web.com Tour Finals. He didn’t play well enough this past season to reach the FedEx Cup playoffs, recording only one top 10 in 19 starts and finishing 143rd in points.
This was the first event in the four-tournament series that will not only dole out 25 more PGA Tour cards, but also establish the priority ranking for next season.
After shooting 20-under 266 at Sycamore Hills, Cauley finished one shot clear of Colt Knost, who burned the edge on a 10-foot birdie on the last. He shot 68.
Nonetheless, like Cauley, Knost is headed back to the PGA Tour. He had his card in 2013, but he was sent back down to golf’s minor leagues after recording only one top 25 in 25 starts. This season, top 5s in two of his last three regular-season events propelled him to No. 52 on the money list.
Greg Owen finished solo third to earn his card.
Sam Saunders, Arnold Palmer’s grandson, began the final round only one shot behind, but he bogeyed the last to shoot 72 and finish in a three-way tie for fourth. His $41,333 paycheck likely will be enough for him to earn his PGA Tour card for the first time.
Carlos Ortiz, a three-time winner who topped the Web.com money list, missed the cut in Fort Wayne.
Next week’s event is the Chiquita Classic in Davidson, N.C.