Stevens – Atlanta Open, page 18
By Mike Blum
After shooting a 63 in the first round of the recent Yamaha Atlanta Open at The Frog, Craig Stevens was in position to comfortably win a fourth Georgia PGA tournament inhis last five starts.
But after almost hitting the flagstick with his approach shot on the par-4 opening hole,Stevens proceeded to four-putt the green for double bogey, with his last two misses fromno more than three feet each.
“Unbelievable,” Stevens said of his stumbling start after completing his round. “That wasa reality check.”
Instead of being flustered by his unexpected slip on the first hole, Stevens proceeded tobirdie five of the next six holes, including four straight to cap his torrid stretch.
Thanks to the rapid recovery from his faltering start, Stevens never yielded the lead andappeared to be on his way to an easy victory, leading by four strokes midway through theback nine.
But unlike the Yamaha Georgia Senior Open, which Stevens won several weeks earlierby eight strokes after trailing late on the front nine, his margin began shrinking as heneared the finish.
Winston Trively, looking for his first win in a Section points event, birdied the last twoholes, while Stevens found fairway bunkers on his tee shots on both 17 and 18. Stevens’bogey at the 17th reduced his lead from four to two, but he managed to par the par-5 18th to lock up his first Atlanta Open title.
A final round 68 gave Stevens a 36-hole total of 13-under 131, just one ahead of Trively,who posted scores of 65-67. Clark Spratlin, who was looking for a second straight Georgia PGA victory after his runaway win at Chicopee Woods, was 3rd at 135 after asecond round 69. The three players were 1-2-3 after the first round and that’s the waythey finished when the event concluded.
Stevens is now three-fourths of the way to a career Georgia PGA Grand Slam, lackingonly a win in the Georgia Open. As much as he would like to add the Georgia Opentitle to his growing list of tournament victories, Stevens would not be disappointed if he doesn’t get the chance next month.
The Georgia Open is being played the same week as the U.S. Senior Open, with Stevenshoping to qualify for that event in his first year of senior eligibility.
Stevens, who teaches at Steel Canyon GC in Sandy Springs, has qualifier status onthe Champions Tour, but has yet to make it into a field for a tournament this year. Heattempted to qualify for the U.S. Senior Open in Pennsylvania, the day after the finalround of the PGA Professional National Championship, which was played in late June inHershey, Pa.
“If I don’t make that, I’m sure I’ll be at Barnsley Gardens,” Stevens said of the site of theGeorgia Open.
Stevens won the last two individual Georgia PGA events of 2010, taking theSection Championship at Sea Island GC and the Section’s qualifier for the PGAProfessional National Championship. After tying for 9th in the Chicopee Woods Players Championship, the Georgia PGA’s season opener, Stevens romped to victory in his firstever appearance in the Georgia Senior Open.
The veteran teaching pro has now captured 13 individual Georgia PGA titles, his firstvictory coming all the way back in 1985 in the Section’s Match Play Championship.Stevens’ next win was 13 years later in 1998, part of a four-year stretch in which he won six times and twice was the Georgia PGA Player of the Year.
Until last month, the Atlanta Open was one of the Section’s two major titles that hadeluded him, but he went a long way toward resolving that when he shot a 9-under 63 inthe opening round, playing his last 11 holes in 8-under.
After closing out the back nine at The Frog (his opening nine) with birdies at 17 and 18,Stevens ripped off five straight birdies beginning at the short, par-4 second hole, andwrapped up his sensational start with his 10th birdie of the day at the ninth.
“I had 24 putts yesterday,” Stevens said after his victory. “I’ve been putting good, but Iwent brain dead (on the first hole of the second round). I was very careless and did notpay attention.”
Stevens still led by one shot as he walked off the first green, which Trively three-puttedfor bogey. Although he was clearly perturbed by the opening double bogey, Stevens wasable to quickly put that behind him.
“I knew I had to stay focused. The next four or five holes are all birdie-able and I knewClark was going to make some birdies.”
Stevens hit his short approach on the second hole to about 10 feet and made it, then tookadvantage of both par 5s on the opening nine (5 and 6), reaching both in two for two-putt birdies. He almost holed his second shot on the sixth, the second short par 4 on thevulnerable front nine at The Frog, and closed out his torrid stretch of birdies by holing a 15-footer on the seventh, with the putt just making it to the hole.
With Spratlin matching Stevens’ birdies at 4, 5 and 6 and Trively scoring birdies at 4and 6 (he three-putted 5 for par), Stevens was unable to break away from his two playingpartners. Spratlin, who teaches at Georgia Golf Center, hit it close at the ninth for birdie to close within two of the lead, with Stevens barely missing his birdie attempt after aclutch par-saving putt at the previous hole.
Stevens’ lead was still two when he parred the 12th after a deft chip shot while Spratlinchipped long and missed an 8-footter for par before lipping out his second putt. That putStevens four ahead of both Spratlin and Trively, who were unable to catch the leaderdespite a combined eight birdies over the final seven holes.
Trively, the head professional at Crooked Oak GC in Colquitt, birdied five of his lastseven holes to put some late pressure on Stevens, who birdied the par-5 13th with a chipand a putt and rattled in a long putt from the fringe on the 15th to maintain a 4-strokeadvantage with three holes to play.
As it turned out, he needed that final birdie to hold off Trively, who had mostly escapedthe attention of Stevens while the leader was keeping a close watch on Spratlin, who iscapable of birdie barrages when his putter is cooperating.
Stevens also had concerns of his own after the rocky start to his second round.
“This game is so mental. I played so well Monday, then I go out and did what I did on thefirst hole today.”
Stevens has recorded a string of low rounds in his four recent Georgia PGA victories,but has been unable to match those numbers in Champions Tour qualifiers. He says it’s amatter of confidence and feeling comfortable in his surroundings.
“I’m very confident playing with these guys,” he says of his tournaments against GeorgiaPGA competition. But against the former PGA Tour players he competes with in theChampions Tour qualifiers, their stature “is in the back of my mind, and I put stress on myself. That kind of takes me down.”
Stevens took home $4,600 for his victory in the Atlanta Open, with Trively earning$3,100 for his runner-up finish and Spratlin collecting $2,100. The tournament waspresented by Bushnell/Bolle.
Jack Hall of St, Simons Island, was low amateur and placed 4th overall, closing with a 66for an 8-under 136 total. Tying for 5th at 137 were Marietta CC Director of Golf StephenKeppler and Cherokee CC instructor Kevin Roman, with both players shooting in the 60s in each round.
Josh Adams, an assistant at The Frog, shot a 67 in the second round to tie for 7th at 138 with amateur Ricky Casko, who had scores of 68 and 70.
Tying for 9th at 139 were amateur DeWitt Weaver III and former Atlanta Openchampions Tommy Brannen, the head professional at Augusta CC, and Greg Lee of Chicopee Woods. All three shot 69-70. Also tying for 9th was Bill Murchison of Towne Lake Hills, who closed within two of Stevens’ lead after going out in 30. But Murchisonstruggled on the incoming nine and settled for a 69.
Recent Atlanta Open winners Tim Weinhart and amateur Bob Royak were among agroup of players tying for 13th at 4-under 140.