VERONA, N.Y. – Less than five years after Bill Lunde quit competitive golf, he earned a spot in next week’s PGA Championship by winning the Turning Stone Resort Championship on Sunday.
Lunde shot 6-under 66 and rallied for the come-from-behind victory with a 17-under 271 total on the 7,482-yard Atunyote Golf Club layout. He earned $720,000, a PGA Tour exemption through the end of 2012 and 250 FedEx Cup points for his first PGA Tour win in 53 career starts.
“I started driving it really well, hitting it down the fairway,” Lunde said. “So that kind of changed the whole game. I went from scrambling to make pars to having 9 irons that I could hit close.
“All these guys out here, you’re never far from playing good. You can sit here and say, ‘I’m playing awful, I don’t know how I’m going to break 80 today,’ but you’re never that far off.”
J.J. Henry finished runner-up at 16 under after he tied the course record with a 63. Jerry Kelly, Josh Teater, Michael Sim, Billy Mayfair and Alex Cejka tied for third place at 15 under. Cejka was the leader after the second and third rounds, but closed with an even-par 72.
Lunde made the weekend cut by one stroke at 3 under and vaulted into contention with a 64 on Saturday. He still trailed Cejka by four shots heading into the final round. Lunde climbed to the top of Sunday’s leaderboard with six birdies and a 30 on the front side. He first reached 17 under with a birdie at No. 9.
Lunde lost a stroke on the par-3 11th where he couldn’t get up-and-down from a greenside bunker. He remained stuck at 16 under until the par-3 16th. Lunde’s 6-iron from 177 yards stopped 4 feet from the pin and he made the short birdie putt to take the lead for good. He parred the last two holes to clinch the win.
None of the success seemed possible to Lunde in 2005 when he stopped playing after a tough year on the Nationwide Tour. He went to the PGA’s Q-School in November and didn’t qualify for the second stage. He found a job in real estate in Las Vegas, but was let go and eventually found his way on to the Butch Harmon Tour.
Lunde made it back to the Nationwide Tour in 2008 and took advantage of his second chance. He won the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational that year and finished fifth on the money list, which earned him a spot on the PGA Tour in 2009.
“I tried to make an agreement with myself when I started playing again to … if I could just have a better attitude right off the bat, I’d become a better player than I ever was before,” he said. “And that was kind of my goal. Obviously it doesn’t happen every day, but it’s definitely better than it was and something I’ll probably battle for the rest of my life. I’m just so competitive. I can’t handle not playing well or bad breaks. It gets me down.”
Henry’s season-best round included seven birdies with no bogeys, an eagle on the par-5 12th hole and just 25 putts. Nineteen of his last 20 rounds on the PGA Tour have been at or below par. He has been runner-up five times on the PGA Tour and his lone victory was in 2006 at the Buick Championship.
“I knew I was going to hit the ball well,” Henry said. “I just wanted to try to make some putts, and I hit a lot of good shots, made a lot of tap-ins. I’m not here to say I should’ve shot lower, but I missed it from six or eight feet on 18, so that might have been something that you never know.”
Cejka was searching for his first PGA Tour win in his 228th career start. He started Sunday at 15 under and parred the first five holes. He ran into trouble on the par-3 sixth as his tee shot landed next to a tree right of the green and he made bogey.
Things got worse on the next hole as Cejka’s drive ended up in some tall weeds right of the fairway. He punched out a few yards into the rough, missed the green with his third shot and made double bogey to drop to 12 under.
Cejka came right back and birdied the par-5 eighth hole and still had the back nine ahead of him. He played the last nine holes a combined 12-under par the first three rounds. It seemed like he would find magic again as he birdied Nos. 10 through 12 to get to 16 under.
After a par at the tough par-4 13th, disaster struck for Cejka. His tee shot on No. 14 found the creek that runs along the left side of the fairway, and he made bogey. He parred the last four holes to finish at 15 under – right where he started the day.
“I just said, ‘one more birdie,’ and then I just hit it in the water,” Cejka said. “A bogey under those circumstances really cost me. But if I don’t make bogey there, I had great chances on 15 and 16. Maybe it would be different on 18 if I was 16 under or 17 under at the start, but that’s the way it is.”.
DIVOTS: Lunde’s previous best finish was a tie for fourth at last year’s Frys.com Open. He was a member of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas golf team that won a NCAA Division I title in 1998. … Lunde is the 12th first-time winner on the PGA Tour this year. … Lunde’s 73 in the first round is the highest start by a winner on the PGA Tour this season. … Jonathan Byrd, who tied for 10th place, also tied the course record with a 63 earlier Sunday. Charles Warren and Chris Couch did it Saturday, and Peter Lonard was the first to hit the mark in the final round at last year’s tournament. … Nicholas Thompson (T33) shot the first 29 on the back nine at Atunyote Golf Club in tournament history.