Date: September 19, 2016
Author: Mark Hayes

Ruffels banks best pro finish

Australian youngster Ryan Ruffels has enjoyed his best finish as a professional, a tie for second at today’s Copa Diners Club International in Ecuador.

The Victorian stormed through the PGA LatinoAmerica Tour field with a spectacular closing round of seven-under-par 64, his lowest since turning pro in January.

But it wasn’t quite enough to overhaul Nathan Lashley (-15), whose 10m bomb for par on the 17th effectively ensured a two-shot victory and took the American to the top of the tour’s order of merit – a perch that holds a full Web.Com Tour card as its reward at season end in December.

Ruffels, 18, began the final round five shots adrift of Lashley and, at the high altitude of the tree-lined Quito Tennis and Golf Club, quickly made his move with three birdies in the opening five holes.

A fourth on the ninth and another three birdies before the 14th gave Ruffels hope before two costly three-putts on the 16th and 17th greens – the latter when first putting for eagle – sealed his fate.

A rifled approach to inside 30cm on the last hole set up one last birdie for what the dual Australian junior champion said was “definitely my best round as a professional” and a -13 total.

“It was good to be in the hunt for the first time as a pro and get those juices flowing again,” said Ruffels, who agonisingly missed the Web.Com Tour playoffs by one point despite playing in just seven events on the US PGA Tour on invitations earlier this year.

“It was also nice to know I had to post something in the low 60s and to be able to go out there and do it.”

West Australian Brady Watt finished 17th to keep his good recent form rolling, while Victorian Bryden Macpherson banked a small cheque at 26th in his first LatinoAmerica Tour event this year.

It was Ruffels’ first start on the LatinoAmerica Tour, where his immediate future will be determined in the coming weeks. His runner-up finish secures his card on the South American-based tour for next year, but he has higher goals in mind.

The top five on the order of merit earn full status on the Web.Com Tour for the first half of next season, while the top 10 advance to the final stage of Q-school, skipping two stages.

Ruffels’ cheque for $15,400 won’t have his bank manager doing cartwheels, but it lifts him into 35th on the order of merit and “only a win away from being in a very good position”.

There are six events remaining before the LatinoAmerica Tour Championship, but Ruffels won’t be able to play them all because of existing commitments, or a lack of time to organise a visa to Brazil for this week’s tournament.