Martin Piller stood at the scoring tent behind the 18th green at Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate when his gaze was drawn to the sky above by the sound of rapidly whirring helicopter blades.
Piller had just signed his scorecard, rendering his four-day, 26-under-par total official, and the black chopper making its gradual descent to the 18th fairway had a special delivery for him: His second Web.com championship trophy of the season and the fifth of his career.
The Digital Ally Open in Overland Park became the scene of Piller’s second victory in his last three starts, after capturing the Albertsons Boise Open last month in Boise, Idaho.
His combined score during his two wins: 54-under par.
“I thought in Boise, like, you never expect that again, so to do it again is pretty special,” Piller said. “It’s cool to do it in Kansas City. I’ve stayed with the same family the last six or seven years, and my dad always comes down, and I had my wife here this week.”
Leading Darron Stiles by 2 strokes with two holes to play, Piller, a 29-year-old Dallas native, decided he’d had enough of the drama and promptly dispensed of it.
Stiles teed off first on the par-3 17th after birdying the 16th hole, but dumped his tee shot into the bunker to the right of the green.
Piller was next and floated a high, soft shot that dropped within 10 feet of the pin. After Stiles tapped in for a bogey, Piller sunk a slow-rolling birdie putt, pumping his fist as it eked over the edge of the lip and disappeared into the cup.
He knew at that moment that the tournament — and the $108,000 check that came with it — was his.
It was a scene that Stiles, a six-time PGA Tour cardholder, has grown all too familiar with.
“(Piller) blitzed us in Boise a few weeks ago to the tune of 27 or 28 under, I think. I mean, it wasn’t even a contest that week with him,” Stiles recalled.
“And I’ve seen this show before last year in Knoxville, kind of the same thing. I was the chaser (and) was playing well in front of him, and then he still beat me by a shot for the day. So I expected him to go out and do pretty much exactly what he did.”
Stiles, 42, who finished alone in second place at 22-under par, was one of two primary challengers all day. The other was Chris Baker, a 28-year-old Iowa State grad.
Baker was 1 shot up on Stiles and trailed Piller by 2 strokes heading into the 16th, when disaster struck in the from of a triple-bogey 7.
“It took me six shots from 75 yards,” Baker said, half smiling and half exasperated. “I just hit a bad shot, and it sailed over into the deep fescue. The ball was buried, I could barely see it, so it took 2 (shots) to chunk it out.”
Piller’s victory over Baker and Stiles vaulted him from fifth position on the Web.com Tour’s money list into second place, pushing his total season earnings to $308,549. He now trails leader Patton Kizzire, who missed the cut this week, by $83,150.
The top 25 money winners during the regular season automatically earn PGA Tour cards, but continue jockeying for position throughout the four finals events. The golfer who finishes in first place wins a fully exempt PGA Tour status — a coveted prize and one now within Piller’s grasp.
Despite his hot play of late, Piller was quick to recognize how far he yet remains from a first-place Tour finish.
“Patton is pretty good, so there’s still a long ways to go. Certainly, (finishing first) is always in the back of your mind,” Piller said. “It’ll take another one of these, maybe two.”
▪ Ryan Spears, 29, Wichita State grad, finished 14-under-par and tied for 31st place.
▪ Peter Malnati, 28, Missouri grad, finished 5-under-par alone in 71st place.
▪ Korbin Kuehn, 25, UMKC grad, finished 4-under-par and missed the cut.
▪ Aaron Watkins, 33, Kansas State grad, finished 4-under-par and missed the cut.
▪ Harry Higgs, Overland Park native, finished 2-under-par and missed the cut.
▪ Zecharia Potter, 28, Wichita State grad, finished 5-over-par and missed the cut.