(Reuters) - Nate Lashley completed a fairytale week by clinching an emphatic six-stroke triumph over fellow American Doc Redman at the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit on Sunday.
Lashley, the final player to get into the field after several late withdrawals, was never seriously challenged in the final round after starting with a six-shot advantage.
He carded a two-under-par 70 at Detroit Golf Club for his first PGA Tour victory in his 33rd career start.
Lashley led wire-to-wire and finished at 25-under 263, earning a spot in next month’s British Open at Royal Portrush and next year’s Masters at Augusta National.
“I’ve never played in Europe before so I’m really looking forward to playing in the Open,” Lashley said of the July 18-21 tournament in Northern Ireland.
The 36-year-old enjoyed warm support from the large galleries after widespread reporting of the death 15 years ago of his parents and girlfriend in a light plane crash.
“I’ve been through a lot,” Lashley added. “It took a lot of years for me to get over my parents’ death, for sure. It was mentally holding me back for a long time.
“I think about my parents all the time. And thinking about them today, I was getting a little emotional even walking up 18, because without them I wouldn’t be sitting here right now.”
Only Rory McIlroy — seven strokes at the Canadian Open — has won by a bigger margin on tour this year, and Lashley described as “huge” the job security that comes with his two-year tour exemption.
He made two bogeys on Sunday, double the number he had recorded in the first 54 holes, but never lost his poise and had a big enough lead to appreciate an emotional victory march down the 18th fairway.
“I’m just really thankful I got into the tournament,” he said, choking back tears after hugging his sister and current girlfriend. “Last guy in the field, it’s a great feeling.
“Winning on the PGA Tour has always been a dream and getting that done today is a great accomplishment and I’m just really happy. It still hasn’t hit me. It’s going to hit me at some point tonight.
“Having my friends and family here, a lot of them flew in, I can’t ask for more and I’m ready to celebrate with them.”
Former U.S. amateur champion Redman (67), a Monday qualifier who like Lashley did not know at the start of the week whether he would be playing, emerged from the pack to claim second.
He sank a four-foot par putt at the last to earn special temporary membership on tour, along with a British Open berth.
“It’s going to be an absolute blast, a unique challenge for me and I’m excited to give a shot,” Redman said. “I don’t know much about Royal Portrush but I’m excited to go.”
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; editing by Ken Ferris/Greg Stutchbury