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Tyler Duncan entered Monday’s final round of the Korn Ferry Tour Championship needing a special round to ensure a return trip to the PGA Tour.
The 30-year-old Purdue product, who arrived this week No. 41 in Finals points and was outside the top 25 heading into the final day at Victoria National, shot 6-under 66 with four back-nine birdies to finish T-4 and move to 12th in points.
“It could easily be the best round I’ve ever played,” said Duncan, who has played the last two years on the PGA Tour and will now keep his card for a third straight season.
Duncan was among those celebrating after a drama-filled finish to the Korn Ferry Tour season. England’s Tom Lewis won the Finals finale by five shots in his first career KFT start to earn a Tour card for the first time, while two players locked up fully-exempt status for the upcoming Tour season, South Carolina alum Matt NeSmith (No. 1 in Finals points by 19 points over Lewis, despite a missed cut this week) and former Texas standout Scottie Scheffler (No. 1 in combined points after a T-7 finish).
But the real drama happened further down the leaderboard and Finals points list.
Scheffler’s college teammate, Doug Ghim, was 29th in Finals points to start the week, but found himself inside that number late Monday. After a bogey at the par-4 17th dropped him to No. 23 on the projections, Ghim faced a 10-footer for par at the par-4 18th – make and Ghim would be joining Scheffler on Tour, miss and he would be returning to the KFT next year.
He made, delivering a big upper-cut fist pump as the ball dropped into the hole.
— Korn Ferry Tour (@KornFerryTour) September 2, 2019
“I’ve never felt nerves like that before,” said Ghim, who played in an NCAA final, was runner-up at the 2017 U.S. Amateur and low amateur at the 2018 Masters. “I’ve been in a lot of nervous situations. The only way I’d be devastated is if I had a putt to make it and didn’t make it, and that thought occurred when I got there. After all I went through throughout the whole season, to have a putt to make it is wild, and even wilder to have it go in, so I can’t even quantify in words what this means.”
Joining Lewis, Duncan and Ghim by moving inside the top 25 in Finals points this week: Fabian Gomez, who finished runner-up to climb from T-51 to No. 5; David Hearn, who made eight birdies Monday while rising from No. 42 to No. 13; Chris Baker, who tied for fourth and moved up 33 spots to No. 15 while playing just a few hours from his hometown; Cameron Davis, who played the back nine in 4 under to finish T-13 and go from T-34 to No. 21; and Richy Werenski and D.J. Trahan, who tied for the final two cards via Finals points.
When it comes to raw emotion, few days in professional golf can compare.
“My hair is turning gray. It’s taking years off all of us,” said Rob Oppenheim, who began Monday on the points bubble, at No. 25, before shooting 69 and finishing 20th on the Finals list. (Joseph Bramlett, No. 26 entering the final round, got his card, as well, after a closing 70 that left him No. 22 in points.)
But for all the celebratory moments that this event produces, there are equal – if not more – parts heartbreak.
Justin Harding entered the week 13th in Finals points before missing the cut. The South African then watched as two players already with cards, Grayson Murray and Lanto Griffin, struggled down the stretch to bump Harding out of the top 25. Griffin double-bogeyed No. 17 to move Werenski and Trahan past Adam Svensson and into T-25 in the projections, and then moments later Murray bogeyed the last to move the pair past Harding, who dropped from No. 24 to No. 26. Harding then watched as Griffin lipped out a short birdie putt at No. 18 that would’ve bumped him back inside the number.
Instead, Harding finished one-tenth of a point shy.
“It was a miserable feeling thinking I just might barely miss,” said Trahan, who birdied his last hole. “… I held my breath and it worked out well.”
It didn’t work out well, though, for several notable names. Peter Uihlein was projected to move inside the top 25 on the Finals points list, at No. 19 with two holes left to play. He had just birdied four straight holes and earlier eagled the par-5 10th, but Uihlein closed with double bogey at No. 17 and bogey at the last to finish 35th in Finals points.
Blayne Barber bogeyed three of his final five holes and ended up No. 31. Curtis Luck, who missed the cut, fell all the way from No. 15 to T-29.
Ollie Schniederjans won’t be returning to the PGA Tour after shooting 76-74 in the final two rounds and ending up 69th in Finals points. Neither will Jamie Lovemark, who tied for 67th this week and finished T-98 on the Finals list.