Kyle Thompson proved a lot to himself Sunday, personally and professionally.
He proved he can still win. He proved he can make the clutch swings and big putts under pressure. Above all, he proved he can still make a living playing pro golf.
Thompson had won the Rex Hospital Open at TPC Wakefield Plantation twice before, in 2007 and 2011. But he returned to Wakefield this year for the Web.com Tour tournament without a dollar in winnings, wondering if his career might be near an end at age 36.
All those doubts ended Sunday when he captured the Rex title for a third time, using a 4-under-par 67 in the final round to share a three-way tie for the lead at 17-under 267, then winning a two-hole playoff against Patton Kizzire and Miguel A. Carballo.
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After Carballo and Kizzire missed birdie tries at the par-4 18th hole in the playoff, Thompson took a deep breath, tapped his putter head twice and knocked in a four-footer to win. He pumped his fist – once, twice – before getting big hugs from his wife, Emmi; daughter, Sophie, and son, Sam.
“This trophy will look very nice next to the other two,” said Thompson, a former South Carolina golfer who lives in Greenville. S.C. “The last couple of years have been a real struggle. I haven’t gotten a lot of starts. I’ve been begging for sponsor’s exemptions. There were times when I thought of putting the game away.”
Thompson entered the Rex, his second Web.com Tour start this year, on a past champion’s exemption. He opened with a 63, then followed with rounds of 68 and 69 on a Wakefield course he knows so well.
“I felt I still had a lot of golf left in me, and I just love it here,” Thompson said. “I started making some putts and thought, ‘Here we go; this is going to be my week.’”
Kizzire, who played at Auburn, came into the Rex off three consecutive top-10 finishes and was fourth in money while Carballo, from Argentina, was 12th on the tour money list.
Carballo had a 7-under 64, the low score in the final round, with birdies on the 17th and 18th holes. Kizzire had a 66, lipping out a 25-footer on the 18th hole that would have given him the solo lead, and Thompson also had a chance to get to 18-under at the 18th but missed on a 15-foot birdie try.
All three parred the 18th, the first playoff hole – Carballo and Thompson missing 12-footers for birdie. It was back to the 18th tee and Kizzire and Carballo then found trouble with their drives, but Thompson hit the middle of the fairway and put his sand-wedge approach to four feet.
“I’m certainly disappointed but encouraged at the same time,” Kizzire said. “Congratulations to Kyle. He’s a veteran and he’s won here before. What he did was impressive.”
Thompson zoomed to 15th on the Web.com money list with the $112,500 payoff and is exempt on tour this year and in 2016. He became the first to win a Web.com Tour event three times and now has four career wins on the tour.
Former East Carolina golfer Harold Varner III took a two-shot lead into the final round and had a lot of ECU purple in his gallery. But Varner, after blistering Wakefield with a 62 on Saturday, couldn’t build any final-round momentum and had an even-par 71 to tie for sixth at 269.
Scott Parel, who turned 50 this year, and Drew Scott tied for fourth at 268. Both had birdies chances at 18.
Thompson had a three-putt bogey at the par-5 ninth, then birdied the next three holes. He bogeyed the par-4 14th but rebounded to birdie the par-5 15th.
Thompson won $81,000 in 2007, when he was 28 and engaged to be married. The second Rex win was worth $99,000 but meant a lot to him in that Sophie, then 2, was at the 18th-hole ceremony. This time, Sam, 3, was a part of it.
“The first one, I had had about seven or eight second-places, so I proved I could win a tournament,” Thompson said. “The second one was really cool because my daughter was there.”
And the third?
“By far the best,” he said, smiling.