Last year, Tim Weinhart came into the final round of the Georgia PGA Championship three shots behind 36-hole leader Sonny Skinner.
Weinhart carded six birdies on the day at Sea Island Golf Club’s Seaside course and shot 4-under 66 to win by one over Skinner, who matched par of 70.
Coming into the last round of this week’s Section Championship, which was played at Sea Island Golf Club’s Retreat course, Weinhart was again three shots off the lead going to the final day, trailing Capital City Club assistant Cory Cooper, who posted scores of 68 and 67 the first two days.
Weinhart was in second place going to the final round Wednesday at Retreat, with Cherokee Town & CC instructor Peter Jones in third, four shots off the lead. The final round was played in foursomes with a shotgun start, with Oak Mountain head pro Kevin Gibbs, who was six off the lead, the other member of the group.
At the start of the final round, Weinhart was at 6-under 138 after scores of 71-67 and figured he needed to shoot in the 68 to 70 range to defend his title. Weinhart shot 1-over 73 with only one birdie after the opening hole, but that turned out to be good enough to edge Jones and two other pursuers, who all came up one shot short of Weinhart’s winning total of 5-under 211.
Weinhart, the Director of Instruction at Heritage Golf Links, admitted he was “very surprised” that he was able to win the tournament with a 73 in the final round, which he described as “interesting.”
Of the four players in Wednesday’s lead group, Weinhart was the only one with any history of success in the Georgia PGA Championship, having two wins and 11 finishes of fourth or better in the tournament, including the last seven years in a row.
Being in an unfamiliar situation may have had an effect on Cooper’s play the final day. He hit his tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 second hole and his next shot from the tee sailed into the woods and he was unable to find it. A quadruple-bogey 8 knocked him out of the lead and he followed with a bogey at the third, but he played his next five holes in 1-under to stay within one of the lead shared by Weinhart and Jones.
But another poor tee shot by Cooper at the ninth led to a triple bogey, and he was unable to stage a comeback after shooting 4-under on the back nine each of the previous two days. He shot 38 with a double bogey at the 13th and ended the day with an 81 to tie for 12th in the tournament at even par 216.
That left the final round as largely a three-player battle among the remaining members of the lead foursome. Weinhart and Jones both birdied the opening hole and parred the rest of the holes on the opening nine with the exception of the par-3 sixth, which Weinhart bogeyed to drop into a tie for the lead with Jones.
Cooper held at one off the lead before his triple bogey at the ninth, with Gibbs playing his way back into contention after consecutive bogeys at holes 2 and 3 dropped him six shots behind Weinhart. With five birdies in a 9-hole stretch beginning at the fourth, Gibbs pulled into a tie for lead after 12 holes, as both Weinhart and Jones struggled early on the back nine.
Weinhart, who had problems with his driver throughout the final round, hit his tee shot into a palmetto bush on the par-4 11th, had to take an unplayable lie and made double bogey to lose his share of the lead. Jones, suddenly the leader by two, bogeyed the par-3 12th to fall back into a tie with Gibbs, who collected his fifth birdie of the day on the hole.
Gibbs quickly gave up his share of the lead with a bogey at the par-4 13th, but Jones followed with a bogey at the difficult par-4 14th, creating a 3-way tie for first at 4-under, with three players in the group ahead of them within one shot of the lead.
Jones regained the lead with a birdie at the par-4 15th, but missed the green at the short but perilous par-3 16th and made bogey, while Sanders’ tee shot went into the hazard guarding the green, leading to a triple bogey that knocked him out of contention.
Four-time tournament champion Stephen Keppler, the Director of Golf at Marietta CC, briefly pulled into a tie for the lead with a birdie at the par-5 17th. But Weinhart also birdied the 17th with a wedge approach to 10 feet, and went to the 18th with the outright lead when Jones three-putted for par after reaching the green in two.
Jones had an excellent opportunity to force a playoff after an excellent approach on the dangerous par-4 18th to about five feet, but he missed his birdie attempt. Weinhart won with a par after avoiding the water lurking the length of the hole on the left.
Like Weinhart, Jones shot 73 the final day to tie for second with Brian Dixon and John Wade at 4-under 212. Dixon, an instructor at Fox Creek, played his last nine holes in 3-under, closing out his round with a birdie at the first, his final hole of the day for a 71.
Wade, the head pro at Sea Island GC, birdied four of his last seven holes for a 67, the low round of the day. Like Dixon, Wade birdied the par-5 first hole, his seventh birdie of the day, to get to 4-under for the tournament and had one hole left to play. But he settled for par on the second to share the runner-up position for the second time in four years. He tied for second in 2014 with five other golfers, 10 shots behind runaway winner Hank Smith.
Keppler, who has compiled a remarkable record in the Section Championship since his first win in 1990, bogeyed the 18th and shot 71 Wednesday to finish fifth at 213. Gibbs closed with a 73 to tie for sixth at 214 with James Mason and Kyle Owen.
Mason, who scored his fourth victory in the tournament at the age of 64 two years ago, had five birdies in a final round 71, one day after matching his age with a tournament best 66 highlighted by a hole-in-one on the 12th. Mason made a game comeback effort after an opening 77.
Owen’s hopes ended with a triple bogey at the ninth, but he rebounded with four birdies on the back nine for a 71 to retain his spot atop the Georgia PGA points list for 2017.
Cooper held the lead after an opening 68 by one shot over Jones, Gibbs and Matthew Sanders, Gibbs’ assistant at Oak Mountain. A 67 the next day that included his second straight 32 on the back nine gave Cooper a 3-shot advantage over Weinhart heading to the final round.
Weinhart won the Section Championship for the first time in 2005 on the Seaside course, and finished second three straight years from 2013-15 before collecting his second title last year, also at Seaside. He placed second the last two times the tournament was played at Retreat in 2010 and ’13, two of his five runner-up finishes in the event dating back to 2002.
“This one means a lot,” said Weinhart, who added that he was “in a little different place” mentally than he ordinarily is. “I was exceptionally calm through the back nine, even when I made double at 11. In the past, there would have been all sorts of antics.”
With the victory, Weinhart qualifies for next year’s PGA Professional Championship, the national championship for the country’s club professionals, but he will still have plenty of incentive in next month’s Georgia PGA qualifier for the event.
Weinhart has won Georgia PGA Player of the year honors nine times since 2002, and with his victory Wednesday, is in strong position to claim a 10th title.
Owen has a slim lead with one event remaining on the 2017 Georgia PGA schedule, with Dixon and Weinhart in a virtual tie for second. A win by any of the three in the PGA qualifier next month at Champions Retreat outside Augusta will guarantee them Player of the Year honors. Weinhart is already in the national club professional championship, while Owen and Dixon both have to be concerned with qualifying for nationals
“My goal is always to win the tournament,” said Weinhart, who will be looking for his fourth victory in the event since 2009.
Weinhart earned $5,100 for his victory Wednesday, with the tournament sponsored by E-Z-GO, with TaylorMade-adidas Golf-Ashworth and the PGA Tour the presenting sponsors.