Mercer senior Trey Rule let his chance to win the Dogwood Invitational at Druid Hills Golf Club in regulation slip away on the 72nd hole.
That only delayed his victory, as the Eatonton native birdied the second playoff hole against Winthrop golfer Zach Seabolt to end a tournament-long battle between the two.
Both players finished the 72-hole event with 21-under totals of 267. Alpharetta’s Billy Kennerly, a junior at Clemson, was 3rd at 20-under, followed by Georgia Tech senior Anders Albertson at 19-under. Kennesaw State senior Jimmy Beck, a Columbus native, was 5th at 18-under.
Rule began the final round one ahead of Seabolt at 19-under, with Albertson two back and Kennerly three off the lead. It turned out to be a two-man duel, as Kennerly double-bogeyed the first hole and Albertson stalled after three birdies in a four-hole stretch midway through the round got him within two of Rule’s lead.
Seabolt, the Big South Conference Freshman of the Year in 2014, birdied the second and third holes to take his only lead of the final round, with Rule responding with birdies at five and six. Rule holed a pair of mid-length putts on the two holes, matching Seabolt on the short, par-3 sixth after the Raleigh, N.C., resident nearly jarred his tee shot.
A birdie at the par-5 seventh pulled Seabolt back into a tie, but a severe miss-hit with his tee shot on the tough par-3 eighth followed by a three-putt resulted in a double bogey.
It took Seabolt five holes to regain a share of the lead with birdies at the par-5 ninth and the 13th after another superb tee shot on a par 3. Rule, meanwhile, carded eight straight pars after his birdie at the sixth before taking a two-stroke lead when he birdied the 15th and Seabolt bogeyed.
A big drive on the short, uphill par-4 15th led to a pitch shot Rule stuck within a few feet, while Seabolt was out of position after an errant tee shot. Rule took a two-stroke lead to the par-5 18th, but three-putted for bogey after Seabolt nearly chipped in for eagle.
Rule lipped out his short par putt, but quickly overcame any disappointment with an excellent approach on the first playoff hole (No. 1) after his tee shot ended up uncomfortably close to a tree right of the fairway.
The hole was halved with pars, but Seabolt pulled his drive on the 18th into the trees just in front of the tee on the left side. It took him five shots to reach the green due to a topped third shot from the rough, and he tapped in for a double bogey before Rule holed a short birdie putt to wrap up his victory.
“That was definitely not how I drew it up,” Rule said of his playoff victory. “But I had a good shot at redemption and was fortunate I was able to do it.”
Rule said winning a tournament with as long and storied a history as The Dogwood “was amazing. When I first signed up and I saw all the great winners, to add my name to the list is surreal.”
It was Rule’s third victory of 2014, including the Atlantic Sun Championship at Chateau Elan. He helped lead Mercer to the most successful season in team history, highlighted by a conference championship and the Bears’ first ever NCAA appearance.
“We had an unbelievable season,” Rule said. “It was the first time we went to Regionals and won the conference. It was great to be a part of history.”
Rule was a contender throughout the Dogwood, shooting a 67 the first day with seven birdies to trail Duluth’s Seth Reeves, a recent Georgia Tech graduate, by two.
Seabolt shot a tournament-best 63 in the second round to share the 36-hole lead at 133 with Locust Grove’s Davin White, who plays at Georgia State. White shot a 65 to also overtake Reeves, who carded a 69. Rule again had seven birdies for another 67 to share 3rd place with Reeves.
Rule matched Seabolt’s 63 in the third round to take the lead at 19-under. Rule had an astounding 12 birdies on his scorecard, more than offsetting three bogeys. After five birdies and three bogeys on the opening nine, Rule shot 29 on the incoming nine with seven birdies and pars on holes 12 and 17.
Seabolt lost his lead despite shooting 65. Albertson fired a 64 after parring his first six holes, and Kennerly also shot 64 after being 8-under after 12. Reeves fell out of contention with a 73, playing his first seven holes in 6-over before going 5-under over his last seven.
Reeves closed with a 69 to tie for 12th at 12-under with Atlanta junior golfer Will Chandler, who shot 68-67 the final two rounds with 13 birdies.
White fell back with a final round 72 and placed 7th at 15-under, with Griffin’s Henry Mabbett, who plays at Georgia Southern, thing for 8th after 274. Lilburn’s Ted Moon, a senior at Belmont, was 11th at 275.