Trey Mullinax surges to Rex Hospital Open victory on Tour (N&O)

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Trey Mullinax and Justin Thomas, being former Alabama teammates and good friends, texted each other Sunday morning.

Mullinax was about to play in the final round of the Rex Hospital Open, the Tour event at TPC Wakefield Plantation. Thomas was doing the same at The Players Championship.

“He gives me a hard time,” Mullinax said, smiling. “We were texting and he was encouraging me. I told him to go and play well (Sunday), and he told me the same.”

Call it the power of suggestion: Mullinax surged from behind on the back nine to win the Rex title by two shots over Brady Schnell; meawhile, Thomas had a 65 in The Players that was the day’s low round at TPC Sawgrass and earned him a tie for third.

“We need to do that more often,” Mullinax said.

Mullinax, 23, and Thomas were a big part of two Crimson Tide national championship teams. Mullinax, from Gardendale, Ala., has played the past two years on the Tour, but his distance off the tee – he ranks fifth in driving distance – and solid overall game might soon have him joining Thomas on the PGA Tour.

There was a time Sunday when it appeared Mullinax might not make it happen in the Rex. He put a shot into the creek fronting the green at the par-5 ninth hole, taking a bogey that left him trailing Schnell by five.

But Mullinax didn’t get ruffled. Instead, he birdied the 10th, 11th and 12th holes and eagled the par-5 15th, finished off a 3-under-par 68 with a backside 30.

At the 15th, Mullinax was just off the green in two and chipped in from 15 feet. Suddenly he was 14-under for the tournament, in the lead and excited.

Schnell, who took a one-shot lead into the final round, birdied the 15th to force a tie, but bogeyed the par-4 17th. Mullinax, playing in the twosome ahead of Schnell, then put his approach at the par-4 18th about 35 feet left of the pin.

Mullinax, who resembles a young Ernie Els at 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, said he didn’t glance at the leaderboard and wanted to only concentrate on the putt. Some fans in the gallery at the 18th had other ideas.

“I hear some guys behind me say, ‘All you’ve got to do is two-putt to win,’ ” he said. “I was like, ‘Oh, heavenly days. Thanks guys.’ 

Mullinax rolled his first putt three feet past the cup, but holed the downhill par putt. Schnell came to the 18th needing a birdie to tie and force a playoff, but his approach was long and into a greenside bunker, and he bogeyed for a 72 and 12-under 272 finish.

Schnell, who played college golf at Nebraska, also was after his first career win on the Tour. He birdied three of his first four holes Sunday, moving to 16-under.

“I probably got a little conservative,” Schnell said. “I don’t feel like I lost it. Trey played great on the back nine.There were a lot of positives coming off (four) missed cuts in a row. It just wasn’t my turn to win.”

Mullinax’s first pro victory and the first-place check of $117,000 jumped him to fourth on the tour money list with $154,486. The top 25 on the tour earn playing rights on the PGA Tour for next year, and Mullinax has taken a big step in the right direction.

In the 2015 Rex, Mullinax opened with rounds of 66 and 67, but a 72-70 finish dropped him into a tie for 30th. This time, his rounds were 68, 67, 67, 68.

“I played well all week and played smart,” he said. “I knew this golf course and what it would take. I came out and had a free mind.”

Raleigh’s Grayson Murray also had a good week. Playing on a sponsor’s exemption, Murray tied for 10th at 7-under 277, as did former N.C. State golfers Albin Choi and Marc Turnesa.

Murray’s finish secured him a spot in next week’s BMW Charity Pro-Am in Greer, S.C. Mullinax will be there, too, saying he was jumping in his car to make the drive Sunday night, the Rex trophy safely tucked away.

And maybe get a call from that man Thomas, who always gives him a hard time.

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