COLUMBUS, Ga. -- Fred Wadsworth graduated from a struggling golfer playing the PGA mini-tour to an exempt player Sunday when he shot a final round 67 to win the $63,000 first prize in the Southern Open at Green Island Country Club.
Wadsworth's four-day total of 11-under 269 was two shots better than four veteran golfers who finished at 271 on the par-70, 6,791-yard course. Wadsworth, who has lived in the Columbus area for 12 years and failed last year to obtain his PGA Tour card, qualified for the Southern Open Monday by shooting a 68 on his home course in nearby Fort Benning.
The win gives him a two-year exemption from qualifying and automatically enters him in the Masters, PGA, Tournament of Champions and the World Series of Golf. It was only the second PGA Tour event he had entered. He missed the cut in the 1984 Southern Open.
The group at 9-under consisted of third-round leader Jim Thorpe, who shot a final round 71, John Cook, 1969 Masters champion George Archer, and 1985 Southern Open champion Tim Simpson. At 8-under were Joey Sindelar, Payne Stewart and Jack Renner.
'I was down in Florida two weeks ago struggling to make my entry fee (in the mini-tour events) back,' said Wadsworth, 24. 'It's unbelievable. The people at Fort Benning (a nearby military base) have supported me and they just treated me like a son out there.
'To have them out there pulling for me and then to go on and win the tournament is a dream come true. It's a fairy-tale finish.'
The mini-tour is the equivalent of a minor league for the PGA, where professional golfers enter tournaments simply by posting an entrance fee.
Wadsworth also played in the 1985 and 1986 U.S. Opens -- sanctioned by the United States Golf Association -- and missed the cut both times.
He is the second qualifier to win a PGA Tour event this year, with the other being Kenny Knox, a Columbus native, at the Honda Classic in February. He is the 11th golfer to win his first PGA Tour event in 1986, one short of the all-time record of 12.
With a large gallery trailing him, Wadsworth broke a three-way tie with Renner and Archer with a birdie 3 on the par-4 12th hole. He also birdied the par-3 17th on the back nine and finished with his only bogey of the day when he carded a 6 on the par-5 18th.
After the birdie on 17, Wadsworth knew he had won the tournament.
'At 17, I had a 12-footer uphill and I felt if I made it, I win the golf tournament,' said Wadsworth, who attended Brookstone High in Columbus. 'When I hit it, I knew it was in.'
Thorpe took a 3-shot lead on the field early in the round, but fell back after he drove out of bounds and suffered a triple-bogey 7 on the par-4 fifth hole.
'I think when I made a 7 on No. 5, I opened up the door for everybody,' Thorpe said. 'I just blocked it dead right out of bounds. It takes another six or seven holes to regroup and start again. And once he (Wadsworth) birdied 17, that shut the door on everyone else.'