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Rookie Haley plays like veteran in win
By Mike Garvey, Golf Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It seems absurd to say that a six-stroke lead is a slim one, especially heading into a final round.
It seems comical to assert that it's hard to hold on to that kind of lead, which Paul Haley II had going into Sunday at the Nationwide Tour's Chile Classic.
But, even if a six-shot Sunday advantage results in victory most of the time, it's still possible to lose. A strong run or a few holes can make all the difference.
Even one hole can make that kind of difference. It's not every day that a golfer stumbles to a quadruple-bogey, like Sergio Garcia did Sunday at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, but it happens.
And that's why the lead Sunday wasn't so big for Haley, a 24-year-old Nationwide rookie playing in just his third event. The 2011 graduate of Georgia Tech had never been in that position or had that kind of success as a professional.
He played outstanding golf Friday and Saturday -- 17 birdies against one bogey got him to 21-under -- and looked like he would run away with the victory.
But as it turned out, he needed almost all of his cushion. Without the steady stream of birdies from Haley's putter, the rest of the field had a chance to catch up. A few nearly did.
Joseph Bramlett, the eventual second-place finisher, was within two strokes after a late birdie. It was entirely possible for Haley to buckle after missing 11 fairways in his first 12 holes, to follow his bogey at No. 8 with more, to drop enough strokes over his remaining holes to fall out of the lead. Cruising to a victory was no longer a possibility.
Yet, with the tournament in his hands, Haley returned to form, making birdies at 12 and 13 to restore some cushion.
Haley is no stranger to success, having won the ACC Championship in 2011, but he also admitted Saturday that he wasn't the kind of golfer to string together a bunch of low rounds.
But because of his efforts over the first three rounds, Haley didn't need to Sunday. He just needed to be steady, and played like a veteran. He trusted in his putter, the key to his success all this week, and never bothered to lose his nerve.
"I didn't look to see how things were until 14," Haley said. "I wanted to know what I had to do to get it in."
He steadied himself after a bogey at 15, parring out to take the win. He told himself not to do anything stupid, and he didn't, playing the par-five 18th safe. He laid up with a pitching-wedge and made the par putt.
Now, his final putt didn't lead to some ho-hum celebration. He couldn't act like he'd been there before, simply because he actually hadn't been in that position before. The Texan left plenty of room for excitement, calling the win "awesome."
"When that last [putt] went in, it was just euphoria," Haley said.
Like Haley commented, nobody expects to win in their third professional start, and his euphoric celebration is understandable. Who wouldn't be extremely excited about their first professional victory?
But it's because of the steady way he played down the stretch that the celebration probably won't be his last.
03/11 20:03:55 ET
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