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Na Is Back on His Game

October 09, 2006|Joel Greenberg | Times Staff Writer

It took Kevin Na only five minutes to get from his Rancho Cucamonga home to Empire Lakes Golf Course, but it took him nine months to recapture his game after a closing car door broke his right hand and effectively ended his year on the 2006 PGA Tour.

Laughing his way through the last few holes, which included a near hole in one on No. 17, Na slammed the door on playing partner Jeff Quinney and a host of others Sunday to run away with the Nationwide Tour's Mark Christopher Charity Classic at Empire Lakes.

Despite a double bogey on the final hole, Na rode a two-under-par 69 to a three-shot victory over Quinney and Chris Tidland.

Na, 23, was happy about more than just his first victory on the Nationwide Tour, which is basically a proving ground for players trying to make the PGA Tour.

Not being able to play this year has been "frustrating," he said. "Watching golf on TV got me too anxious, so I did other things, like working out and hanging out with my buddies.

"At the same time, it freshened me up mentally, which I think contributed to my play this week."

The victory sends Na back to the PGA Tour -- he plays this week in a Las Vegas event -- on a positive note. Na will receive a medical exemption to play 20 PGA Tour events in 2007.

"Hopefully I can carry this over like [former Nationwide grad] Jason Gore and keep winning" on the PGA Tour, he said.

It was the first time Na had played a competitive round in six months. After trying to play following the accident, which broke his hand in two places, Na finally shut down his season in April before reemerging this weekend for what was supposed to be a rehabilitation tournament for him.

"I was just trying to go out there and get a good feel for next week," he said. "This was a big confidence boost for me."

His four-iron on the par-three 17th almost rolled into the hole; the tap-in birdie gave him a five-shot lead going to the 18th.

Of his lapse on the final hole, Na joked, "I was just trying to get more airtime" on television. Then he added, "I knew I had the tournament won -- I just lost my focus."

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joel.greenberg@latimes.com

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