GREER, SC - MAY 16: Ken Duke hits from the first tee box during the final round of the BMW Charity Pro-Am presented by SYNNEX Corporation at the Thornblade Club on May 16, 2010 in Greer, South Carolina. (Photo by Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)

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By Ryan Woodcock

Ken Duke was on the outside looking in before the start of the season-ending Nationwide Tour Championship, sitting at 37th on the Nationwide Tour money list.  He knew he needed a strong showing to jump into THE 25, and he did just that, shooting 10-under 278 at the Daniel Island Club to win the final Nationwide Tour event of the season.  He earned $180,000 for the win, and jumped all the way from 36th to 7th on THE 25, securing his PGA TOUR for the 2012 season.

The win was his first this season (he’s also finished second and third this year) and his seventh Top-25 of the year.  At nearly 43 years old, he is the second oldest player to win the season-ending Tour Championship.

“Things are nice,” Duke said.  “I’m older now, but I’ve hired a trainer and have worked very hard to keep up.  I’ve lost a lot of weight, gained a lot of strength in my core.  I have a lot more flexibility and hopefully I can keep right on going.”

Duke last played on the PGA TOUR in 2009, and looks forward to a return in 2012.

“On the PGA TOUR in 2009, I didn’t hit it good and I didn’t putt it good,” Duke said.  “There were just a lot of variables why I couldn’t keep my card.  But I feel so much better now, so much more prepared.  I enjoy it out there (on the PGA TOUR), it’s a great family.  I feel like my golf game fits better for that TOUR than this Tour.  You have to drive it good out there and that’s what I did the last few days – got the ball in the fairway.”

Duke started the day one shot off the lead, and opened with a birdie on the par-5 third and an eagle on the sixth.  He wasn’t really pressured after that, and finished the day at 4-under 68, the only player to shoot in the 60s on a windy Sunday.

“You know the holes you can birdie, and you know the holes that you gotta make par on,” he said.  “It was just great that no one was putting any pressure on me.”

Duke was the only player who started the round outside THE 25 to make it in, and James Nitties, another former GPT player, got knocked out by Duke’s performance.  Nitties started the Tour Championship at 23rd on THE 25, but he shot rounds of 73-71-76-72 to finish T35 at 4-over par.  He fell to 26th on THE 25.

For the week, a total of 27 former GPT players made the cut, including three in the Top-5, four in the Top-10 and 10 in the Top-20.  Camilo Benedetti and Jeff Gove both finished T5 at 4-under par.  The effort jumped Benedetti from 49th to 35th on THE 25, while Gove jumped from 39th to 30th, but still not enough for either of them to crack THE 25.  Steve Wheatcroft shot rounds of 68-75-71-71 to finish T8 at 3-under par, while Ted Potter, Matt Davidson, Matt Every and Garth Mulroy all finished T12 at 2-under par.

A total of 12 former Gateway Pro Tour players finished in THE 25 this year, and all earned their PGA TOUR cards for 2012.  Potter, thanks to two victories this year, was the highest former player on THE 25, coming in at the second spot with more than $400,000 in earnings.  He is followed in the Top-10 by Duke (7th) and Gary Christian (9th).  Rounding out THE 25 are Troy Kelly (11th), John Mallinger (14th), Kyle Thompson (15th), Matt Every (18th), Steve Wheatcroft (20th), Garth Mulroy (21st), Mark Anderson (22nd), Robert Castro (23rd) and Martin Flores (24th). 

For complete results from the Nationwide Tour Championship, CLICK HERE.  For a look at THE 25, CLICK HERE

The PGA TOUR and Nationwide Tour seasons are now in the books, but that doesn’t mean golf is over for the year.  While a number of players already earned their TOUR cards, those that didn’t will battle it out in PGA TOUR Q-School for a shot at better playing status for 2012.  Congrats to those that finished in THE 25, and good luck to the rest who are tackling  Q-School.  As always, check back here for a recap of the action!