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Recent PGA Tour rookie Carlos Sainz Jr. cruises to Sarasota Open title

SARASOTA -- Carlos Sainz Jr.'s first set of golf clubs were purchased at Wal-Mart for $150.

He didn't have the country club background, coming from a blue collar family in the Chicago area.

But what he did have was a work ethic to climb golf's ladder.

And while Sainz Jr. spent 2015 on the PGA Tour, his rookie campaign left him without full-time status for 2016.

So the Mississippi State alum has to go through Web.com Tour Qualifying School. As a prep for that, he ventured to the Suncoast for the West Florida Golf Tour's Sarasota Open.

Despite not possessing his Wal-Mart debut sticks, Sainz Jr. showcased his potent game at the Meadows Country Club with a final-round 67 on Thursday for a 23-under par 265 total in the 72-hole tournament -- collecting a $7,000 first-place prize.

"This is about as good as I've played in a long time, four days consecutively," Sainz Jr. said. "Usually in a tournament, you're only going to play a couple days well for four days and hopefully those other two days you're just kind of teetering around manageable numbers ... this week, for some reason, I shot low every round and that was really fun."

Sainz Jr. held a five-shot lead over New Smyrna Beach's Kevin Aylwin heading into the final round.

Aylwin, though, closed the gap to four after the front nine.

"I was putting really good, so I figured if I just hit on the greens on the back nine, I could make birdie on any hole on the back," Aylwin said.

The lead then was trimmed to three after the 12th hole. Momentum switched back to Sainz Jr. when he nestled his 7-iron to five feet on the 177-yard par-three 13th. The subsequent birdie, while Aylwin airmailed the green, ended any additional threat to Sainz Jr. claiming the 2015 Sarasota Open.

"I managed my game well around this golf course," Sainz Jr.

Seeing it once prior to the tournament in a practice round, Sainz Jr. planned out hitting shots to different spots.

Then, when friend David Kalpak, who was also playing in the tournament missed the cut, Sainz Jr. gained a caddy for the final two rounds.

"We're able to talk about things besides golf," said Sainz Jr., who spends his winters in the Jacksonville area. "Sports, whatever, news, anything. So that really helps."

That mental focus of not getting ahead and thinking about results is what separates players at the PGA Tour level and those toiling on the mini-tour grind.

It's a place Sainz Jr. was at in 2015, where he made three cuts in 20 starts and earned more than $124,000. It was also a learning curve, as he saw each PGA Tour stop for the first time, and said he is better prepared if he gets back there.

To even get to that level, Sainz Jr., who has a younger brother Michael that is a professional, worked his way from the local and state level to national junior events that attracted Mississippi State's attention.

"I'm the epitome of just crawling up that ladder," said Sainz Jr., who turned pro in 2010 and spent three seasons on the Canadian Tour before advancing to the Web.com Tour and PGA Tour.

Now he has some cash, which he said he'll put into savings, following Thursday's victory at the Meadows.

"Right now, if I saw a quarter on the ground, I'd pick it up," Sainz Jr. said. "So that $7K is a lot of money."

Meadows public golf sales manager Jason Stutzman caddied for Derek Walton in last year's tournament when it was held at Bobby Jones Golf Club. He helped bring it to the Meadows, and it's a place that fit Sainz Jr.'s eye that reminded him of the municipal tracks he grew up playing in the Chicago-area when he was just trying to find his way.

"I grew up as a caddy, trying to make money for my car insurance and phone bills. ... I appreciate no matter where I'm at," Sainz Jr. said.

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