Two players from foreign lands hooked up in an old-fashioned shootout in the desert during Sunday’s final round of the Gila River Classic.
When the dust settled — literally — Australian David McKenzie was the last man standing at Whirlwind Golf Club near Chandler.
McKenzie, who led by two shots when the day began, lost his lead midway through the wind-blown finale, then earned his first Nationwide Tour victory with back-to-back birdies on the final two holes. The clincher came from 5 feet after Canada’s Jon Mills missed a 10-footer that would have forced a playoff.
“I’ve had a lot of chances to win and just haven’t gotten over the line,’’ said the 38-year-old resident of Melbourne, who had amassed an incredible 10 top-five finishes since 2003, including three runner-up finishes.
Perhaps more important than his first win, the $81,000 check he earned vaulted him from 25th to eighth on the money list with $238,092. Translated: McKenzie will be playing on the PGA Tour in 2006.
“It really hasn’t sunk in yet,’’ said McKenzie, who closed with a 2-under 70 for a winning total of 20-under-par 268. “I guess I’ll think about it in a couple of weeks.’’
McKenzie wasn’t the only one who made a big jump on the money list with PGA Tour implications. Scottsdale’s Jerry Smith, who finished alone in third place at 17 under, collected $30,600, which moved him from 24th to 20th with $188,090.
“It’s definitely what I needed,’’ said Smith, who birdied his last three holes to shoot a bogey-free 66. “It gives me a little breathing room and feels like I can just go out and play now, and not press.’’
Chances are Smith will need another $10,000 to $20,000 to secure one of the top 21 spots on the money list, which was expanded from the traditional 20 after Jason Gore won recently on the PGA Tour.
But Smith has three weeks to do it, including the $650,000 Nationwide Tour Championship that is exclusive to the top 60 money winners.
Mills, who carded a 69 in the final round and led by one shot at the turn, didn’t need the $48,600 for second place to secure his ticket to the big leagues. He already was fifth on the money list after winning the Nationwide Canadian PGA Championship earlier this season and moved up to No. 4 with $320,103 -- the fifth player to surpass the $300,000 mark this season.
“The wind picked up and it was a grind,’’ said Mills, who would have been the winner if not for a disastrous double bogey at No. 12. “But it was fun, really close, and David won because he birdied the last two holes.’’
Another Scottsdale pro who played well was former Arizona State All-American Chez Reavie (67), who finished in a tie for ninth at 12 under. A Monday qualifier, Reavie’s top-10 earned him a spot in next week’s Permian Basin Classic in Midland, Texas.
The future was not as clear for the Gila River Classic, which was played this year for the fifth time despite a lack of sponsor. The PGA Tour paid out the entire purse.
Asked what the future held, Nationwide Tour official Rich Pierson said: “We hope (the tournament returns). There’s probably five different deals in the works right now.’’