NAPA (California) • Argentinian golfer Emiliano Grillo made the perfect start to his career as a PGA Tour member when he beat American Kevin Na in a play-off to win the Frys.com Open in northern California on Sunday.
After missing a three-footer that would have won it at the first extra hole, Grillo made amends at the next, the par-five 18th, with an eight-foot birdie to edge out Na at the Silverado Resort in Napa.
A day after almost hitting Rory McIlroy with his drive at the reachable par-four 17th, Grillo became the sixth Argentinian player to win on the American circuit, joining Roberto de Vicenzo, Jose Coceres, Angel Cabrera, Andres Romero and Fabian Gomez.
It is the second successive victory for the 23-year-old, who earned his PGA Tour card just two weeks ago by winning the Web.com Tour Championship.
He had made a 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole then and earned US$180,000 (S$250,000). This one was worth a lot more. Not only did he earn US$1.08 million but also a guaranteed trip to April's Masters.
On Sunday, he sank a 25-foot birdie at the final regulation hole to earn a spot in the play-off. But he almost threw away the first event on the 2015-16 PGA Tour season when his short putt that would have won it at the first extra hole lipped out.
The putt was similar to the one he missed at the 72nd hole that would have won the Puerto Rico Open in March, though he claimed that this time he did not hit a bad putt. "The difference is I hit this one good," he said in a greenside interview. "I don't know what happened (but) I stayed positive. This is awesome."
He and Na both parred the hole so that sent them back to the tee off the par-five 18th again.
After Na made a mess of the second extra hole, Grillo had the luxury of two-putting for victory, but he needed only one, ensuring he would be remembered for more than being the guy who nearly hit McIlroy.
Grillo moves to No. 36 in the world rankings, which puts him in the HSBC Champions in Shanghai and the Bridgestone Invitational, two World Golf Championships.
He is also in the PGA Championship and The Players Championship, both of which offer US$10 million purses.
Earlier, Grillo (69) and Na (70) finished at 15-under 273, one stroke ahead of Americans Jason Bohn (70) and Justin Thomas (69), and South African Tyrone van Aswegen (68). Bohn held the sole lead with three holes left, but chunked a pitch shot at the par-five 16th and made bogey.
Van Aswegen barely made his tee time after waking up dizzy and going to hospital in an ambulance.
"I was not in good shape," he told Golf Channel. "They filled me with two bags of fluid and said I had severe dehydration and vertigo.
"If you go to the ER (emergency room), nothing's quick. I was trying to speed them along. I was still in the hospital bed an hour before the tee time. Thank goodness there was a slight fog delay."
Overnight leader Brendan Steele plunged out of contention with five bogeys in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. He shot 76 to tie for 17th on 10 under, one stroke better than world No. 3 McIlroy (69).
REUTERS, THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE