Rex Hospital Open: Thompson becomes 3-time champion, extends Tour career

Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network

RALEIGH, N.C. – Kyle Thompson became the Tour’s first player to win the same event three times when he drained a four-foot putt to win a three-man playoff at the 2015 Rex Hospital Open that concluded play at TPC Wakefield Plantation on Sunday.

The win, worth $112,000, vaulted him into 15th place on the Tour Money List.

It was Thompson’s last chance to win a golf tournament and continue his playing career because as he put it, “my back was against the wall”.

“Very emotional,” he said of how he felt with cameras and recorders surrounding him afterwards on the 18th green.

“I can’t even put into words how it feels to win this golf tournament. I 100-percent knew I could, thought I could, but to actually do it, means a lot more. To go from basically having no status on this Tour, very limited status, to now I’m on my way back to the PGA Tour, it means so much to me and my family. It’s hard to put into words.”

Thompson hadn’t won a Tour event in four years, and that triumph was his second Rex Open title back in 2011.

“I’m like the Olympics,” Thompson joked following the second round of play Friday.

“I show up every four years.”

After winning the tournament the first time in 2007, his second win that season, he claimed his PGA Tour card and in 2008 played in 26 events – making nine cuts with one top-10 finish for a total of $154,447 in earnings.

However, his finishes and earnings were not enough, so he returned to the Tour where he eventually earned another promotion back up with the help of winning the Rex Open in 2011.

His second stint on the big tour was less fruitful, making the cut three times out of 22 starts, including a WD, to claim a very modest $45,460 in earnings.

Since that time, he’s toiled to regain the opportunity to earn that same spot on the circuit.

Carding scores of 63, 68, 69, and 67 for the week, he didn’t reap the reward he sought until the second hole of a playoff with Patton Kizzire and Miguel Carballo, the two other players he finished at 17-under par with.

“Monday qualifiers were wearing me down,” Thompson said of the 13 of them he played this season to earn spots in tournaments.

As a past champion at Rex, he had another shot.

“If I’d miss this cut, I’m lookin’ at not gettin’ anymore starts the rest of the year,” he said before the weekend.

“This week I said, if it’s meant to happen, it’s gonna’ happen. I just took a more laid back approach heading into this week.”

Sitting in second place and trailing the lead by one stroke at -15 when he started the par-5 ninth hole, Thompson laid up and was on the green looking at a long birdie putt down the slope towards the front of the green.

He made an aggressive stroke that put eventually put him below the hole.

What looked like an easy par putt save, ended up as a costly bogey.

However, he quickly bounced back and birdied his next three holes to eventually put himself in the lead again, this time at 17-under, but quickly hit another bump when he bogeyed the 14th.

“I told my caddie, I said ‘I don’t care I just made a bogey, we’re still winnin’ this thing’. I was just tryin’ to be confident and not let one little hiccup get me down and dwell on it. So, let’s just bounce back and I did.”

Thompson birdied the 15th hole and put himself in a tie for first with Kizzire who also birdied the same hole.

Both parred their last three holes while Carballo birdied 15, as well as 17 and 18 to join the playoff party that began and eventually ended on the 18th green.

With Kizzire and Carballo waiting off the green at 17-under, Thompson had the chance to win the tournament in regulation, similar to his triumph in 2011 when he was tied with three others before nailing his birdie putt to win it.

That didn’t happen.

Staring at a 15-foot birdie putt, Thompson gave it a run but missed the opportunity to close out and instead gave all those in attendance the opportunity to witness an exciting playoff finish that ended after two holes.

“It wasn’t my best putt of the day,” Thompson said.

On the first playoff hole, all three players hit the fairway to similar distances before hovering balls around the flagstick.

It set up the first round of anxious moments for players and spectators alike.

Carballo’s putt came the closest – rolling along the left edge, around the hole, and back along the right edge – touching a majority of the hole, except the bottom of it.

Back to the tee they went with varied results off the drive compared to the previous hole.

Thompson was the only one in the fairway, in a similar spot at approximately 125 yards out.

Carballo pushed his tee shot right along the cart path and tree line, while Kizzire tried to cut the short part of the fairway to the left and rolled through the fairway towards the front-side creek.

Once again, all three players launched balls closed to the pin, with Thompson’s coming the closest at four feet out.

Kizzire and Carballo missed their birdie putts again and then all eyes were on Thompson.

Would he miss to extend the playoff, or make it and end a four-year drought to get another chance to play on the PGA Tour?

“I got this one,” Thompson said to himself when he lined up his final putt.

As the ball dropped into the hole, he pumped his fist once, picked it up out of the hole, and pumped his arm a second time.

His struggle to have another chance on extending his playing career was over.

“The last couple of years have been really tough,” he said.

“I haven’t gotten a lot of starts – beggin’ for sponsor exemptions here and there. It’s just been tough. I played a lot of mini-tour events – I won last year, some stuff. I played one event, it was a three-round tournament – I shot like 24-under without a bogey and I thought, ‘I’ve still got a lot of game in me’. I just knew that if I keep grindin’ away, somethin’ good’s either gonna’ happen, or if nothin’ happens, then it’s God’s plan for me and it’s time to step away.”

Those same thoughts were with Thompson a few years ago when he missed the cut at the Rex and mentioned while walking off the 18h green that he would have to seriously consider a ‘real job’ offer he had in Texas.

He returned to play again in 2014 and missed the cut, but was back once again this year.

Not just yet ready to quit, but prepared to do so if it happened that way.

“I was a 100-percent at peace with it,” he said.

“If I had missed the cut, I would have been down, but I was ready to kinda’ do something different you know.”

Embracing his wife, son and daughter on the 18th green, you could see the emotion of it all in his face.

When asked an hour later which Rex Hospital Open title he appreciated winning the most, he at first said he would need time to process it all, but was more or less clear of the rank order regardless.

“The first one was really great,” he said.

“Then the second one was really cool because I had my daughter there. It was neat to have my family there. I thought that that was special. Then this one, by far, is the best.”

No ones’ ever had the chance to determine which title win was his best at the same tournament three times.

That is, no one except Kyle Thompson.