Wins again by 7 shots, this time at Pinetree
For the second time in four years, Jay McLuen effectively locked up his victory in the Georgia Open before the final round began.
Three years ago at Barnsley Gardens, McLuen took a 4-stroke lead into the final round and led by seven shots as he headed to the back nine.
In the 2014 Tilted Kilt Georgia Open, McLuen again led by four after 54 holes and was six ahead going to the final nine at Pinetree Country Club. He wound up duplicating his 7-stroke margin of victory from 2011, closing with a 7-under 65 for a 19-under 269 total.
Jimmy Beck of Columbus, who won the 2013 Georgia Amateur at Pinetree, led a trio of current and former Kennesaw State golfers who finished second or tied for third. Beck took low amateur honors and was overall runner-up at 12-under 276, with his final round 67 the only other sub-70 score the final day.
Kelby Burton, Beck’s Kennesaw State teammate from Evans, eagled his 72nd hole, Pinetree’s par-5 ninth, to tie for third overall at 280 with recent Kennesaw State standout Matt Nagy, now a tour pro.
Mini-tour player Eddie Lee of Cumming tied for fifth at 281, his third straight top-5 finish in the tournament. Chris Nicol of Georgia Golf Center also tied for fifth, the best showing in the tournament by a club professional.
McLuen has enjoyed a long stretch of success in the Georgia Open, placing second, fourth and third from 2006 to ’08, losing a playoff at Reynolds Landing in ’06 and leading the tournament late in the final round the next year. He was sixth and eighth the last two years at The Legends at Chateau Elan before claiming his second Georgia Open title.
“It’s my second win in the state open. It’s a tournament I enjoying being part of,” said McLuen, who grew up in the Athens area and has lived in Forsyth for several years.
Like his win three years ago, McLuen was among the leaders from the opening day. He opened with a 66 at Pinetree to share the first round lead with Beck, and after a 6-6-6 second round (six birdies, six pars, six bogeys), was three back of Lee after 36 holes.
McLuen was paired with Lee, who followed an opening 69 with a 66 to take the 36-hole lead at 135, in the final threesome of the third round. He went from three shots behind Lee at the beginning of day to four ahead after 54 holes despite beginning the round with an unfortunate double bogey.
Starting on Pinetree’s par-4 10th hole, McLuen said he drew a flyer lie from the rough, and his second shot flew the green and “hit the back side of a bunker and went out of bounds.
“I knew I was going to make a bogey some time during the round, and I made a double there. At least I got it out of the way early.”
McLuen said the opening double bogey “got me upset,” but instead of getting mad, he got even with Pinetree. McLuen had five birdies and an eagle in his opening 66, six birdies in his second round 72, and played his last 17 holes in the third round in 8-under for a 66.
It didn’t take McLuen long to begin taking Pinetree’s respected renovated layout apart. He nearly eagled the par-5 11th and picked up a second birdie at the short par-4 14th. He hit his second shot inside five feet for eagle on the par-5 16th and closed out a 5-under stretch over seven holes with an 8-footer for birdie at the par-3 17th.
McLuen was tied for the lead with Lee at that point, and took the lead for good when he birdied the par-4 third hole after a perfect tee shot on the narrow dogleg left while Lee took a bogey.
Both players made birdie after nearly driving the par-5 fifth, which was played that day from a forward tee, but Lee fell four shots off McLuen’s lead with a pair of bogeys on the next three holes. McLuen, Lee and Nagy all birdied the par-5 ninth to conclude their rounds, leaving McLuen four in front of both playing parthners, five ahead of Beck and six ahead of Burton.
Only two players shot lower than 69, with rookie pro Franco Castro of Alpharetta matching McLuen’s 66.
“I got into a rhythm, had some perfect numbers and made birdies when I could,” McLuen said after the round. “I feel like I should win. If I do what I’m supposed to do tomorrow, it will be tough to catch me.”
McLuen did what he was supposed to do and then some the final day. He shot 5-under 31 on the back nine after again starting his round on the 10th hole. He birdied both of the relatively short par 5s on that side, as well as the three longest and most demanding par 4s, to break away from the field.
Most of McLuen’s eight birdies on the round came from close range, as he kept hitting it close to the hole and didn’t need much help from his putter.
Beck was the only contender who came close to matching McLuen’s torrid play, carding four birdies on his first seven holes. But he was still five off the lead and parred his next 10 holes before a final birdie at the ninth.
“This is a great ball striker’s course, and it was set up like a PGA Tour course,” McLuen said. “Jimmy pressed me early, and that made me play aggressively. I didn’t want to sit on my lead.”
McLuen has spent most of his professional career as a mini-tour player, making just four starts on the 2010 Nationwide Tour playing on conditional status. He enjoyed considerable success on the Georgia-based Peach State Tour from 2011 to ’13, leading the tour in earnings last year before enjoying the best golf week of his life in Mexico.
In the final PGA Tour event of 2013, McLuen played his way into the Mayakoba Classic in a Monday qualifier and tied for 16th, and has spent the 2014 portion of the PGA Tour schedule playing as many Monday qualifiers as possible. He has made it into three PGA Tour events, but the tournament in Mayakoba is the only one in which he has made the cut.
“I’ve been chasing the Tour all year. It’s been all Monday qualifiers and it’s a tough go,” McLuen said. “I shot 67 Monday in Reno and missed by a shot.”
McLuen earned more than $84,000 for his efforts last year in Mexico, and has some help from a sponsor backing him this year for Q-school, which now leads strictly to the Web.com Tour.
The victory for McLuen was worth $8,000, with Nagy collecting $4,500 for placing second among the pros. Nagy was runner-up to Jonathan Fricke at The Legends in 2012 and tied for eighth with McLuen last year.
Nicol and Lee both took home $2,850, with Nicol seven shots ahead of the next closest club pro finisher, Chris Cartwright of Towne Lake Hills. Todd Ormsby, the new head pro at Highland CC in LaGrange, and Travis Nance of Coosa CC were next among the club pros at 1-over 289.
Cartwright tied for 11th with 2010 Georgia Open champion Samuel Del Val and amateur David Noll of Dalton, who won the 2003 Georgia Amateur at Pinetree. Ormsby and Nance tied for 14th with Atlanta’s Jordan Mitchell.
Blake Palmer of Dawsonville was 7th at 284, followed at 285 by Castro, a recent member of the UNC-Charlotte golf team, and Augusta’s Emmanuel Kountakis, who plays at Mercer. Ryan Chitwood of Lula was 10th at 286.
Fricke, the two-time defending champion, did not play. He is playing the Web.com Tour this year and is battling to finish in the top 75 on the money list to have a chance to qualify for the 2015 PGA Tour.