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Schneiter, Clearwater, Blair Fall Short in Champions Tour Qualifying Event

Three Utahns fell short of qualifying for the Champions Tour Friday at Winter Garden, Florida in the final stage of qualifying.

Steve Schneiter finished in 34th place on rounds of 75-71-74-73-293. Keith Clearwater finished in 41st place with rounds of 75-73-73-74-295. Jimmy Blair finished 43rd with rounds of 80-75-70-71-296.

The story about the tournament that appeared on the PGA Tour website is as follows.

WINTER GARDEN, Florida – Frank Esposito (East Brunswick, New Jersey) continued his winning ways, withstanding a challenge from Grant Waite (Palmerston, NO, New Zealand) midway through the back nine to eventually cruise to a four-stroke victory over Waite to win the 2014 Champions Tour National Qualifying Tournament at Orange County National (Panther Lake Course). With ideal scoring conditions for the final day of the 72-hole event, Waite, who was T27 after the first round and nine strokes back after three rounds (T10), staged a furious rally, making seven birdies over his first 15 holes to creep within a stroke of Esposito’s lead. However, a bogey at the last hole gave Waite a 6-under-par 66 and allowed Esposito to breathe easier the rest of the way.

Esposito, who enjoyed a three-stroke advantage after 54 holes, carded a 1-under 71 on Friday, giving him eight straight sub-par scores in Florida over the last two weeks. The club professional at Brooklake Country Club in New Jersey won last week at the Senior PGA Professional National Championship in Port St. Lucie.

“I’ve just caught fire for two weeks. Once again, I hit the ball very, very well all week and controlled my distance with the irons. Even though the putter was a bit shaky today, I managed my way around the golf course pretty well,” Esposito said afterward.

Waite, a winner of the 1993 Kemper Open on the PGA TOUR, used three birdies on his front nine to creep into the all-important top five position on the leaderboard. The New Zealander then made four birdies in his first six holes on the back nine to move up into second place and solidify his fully-exempt status for the 2015 Champions Tour season.

“Any qualifying school is a grind. I managed to make a few putts early and got some momentum going which is the key at any qualifying school. You get on the right side of it and just cruise along. Today I did everything very well. It was exciting to play like this in the final round of the TOUR Q-School and I look forward to next year,” Waite said.

Jeff Coston (Blaine, Washington) matched Waite’s 66 as the best final-round score and, like Waite, the club professional from Semiahmoo Resort, came through with a clutch round when he needed it, making birdies on his last two holes to move up into third place. After Coston posted his score, Jerry Smith (Scottsdale, Arizona) then secured his exempt status for next year with two clutch birdies in his final three holes to also finish third in the event.

The last fully-exempt spot went to Champions Tour veteran Rod Spittle (Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada) who made a five-foot par putt on the last green to finish solo fifth, posting a 72-hole score of 5-under 283. Spittle, the winner of the 2010 AT&T Championship on the Champions Tour, came to the National Qualifier after finishing 50th on last year’s money list.

Several conditionally-exempt positions were decided in playoffs. Jim Rutledge (Victoria, Canada) secured the sixth position over John Riegger (Henderson, Nevada) with a birdie on the first playoff hole. Joel Edwards (Irving, Texas) earned the eighth position over Jeff Freeman (Windermere, Florida) with a birdie on the first playoff hole. Rick Gibson (Manila, Phillipines) placed 10th over Cesar Monasterio (Buenos Aires, Argentina) with a par on the first playoff hole. Doug Rohrbaugh (Carbondale, Colorado), the first-round co-leader, was 12th over Craig Thomas (White Plains, New York) with a par on the first playoff hole.

Esposito earned $30,000 as the medalist of this year’s National Q-School. The remaining players who finished among the top 30 this week will be eligible to compete for spots in open qualifiers at all co-sponsored events on the Champions Tour in 2015.