Fisher’s birdie on 18 breaks six-way tie for Ozark title
By BRIAN ROSENER
Daily American Republic
POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. — The 67th Tom Hoover Ozark Invitational came down to the final hole Sunday after a frantic charge by the field.
Ryne Fisher’s tap-in putt for birdie on 18 at Westwood Hills Country Club broke a six-way tie as the first-round leader held on to win with a 6-under-par 136.
“It seemed like everybody was making a birdie to get back within one or tie it up,” said Fisher of Leawood, Kan.
“A lot of fun.”
Fisher, Wilson Sundvold and Chad Niezing teed off on 18 tied at 5-under while Brian Craig and Carr Vernon were already in the clubhouse at 137.
The difference for Fisher was his second shot on the 485-yard, par-5 hole.
“I was just trying to get it on the green to be honest with you,” Fisher said.
Fisher’s tee shot ended up on the left third of the fairway with Sundvold about 7 yards ahead and to the right. First it was Fisher who planted “a perfect 7 iron” from 182 yards to within 15 feet, just left of the cup.
Sundvold’s second shot was on line but over the pin and behind the green.
“(That) left me with a tough chip,” Sundvold said. “It was a good shot but just too good of a shot.”
Niezing and Shane Burkett, who was a shot back of the lead, hit their second shots short of the green. Burkett was able to get up-and-down for birdie to reach 137. Niezing carded a par to also finish at 5-under.
Wilson’s chip rolled past the hole and a long uphill birdie putt missed while Fisher left his eagle try short for an easy tap-in and the title.
“I know I’ve got some former teammates on that trophy,” said Fisher, a former golfer at the University of Missouri.
“I’m certainly excited to have my name on it.”
Fisher finished tied for third last year, 4 shots behind winner Blake Driskell, and shot 77 in the rain-shortened 2011 Ozark.
“I don’t know why this tournament has meant so much but it’s always been first class,” Fisher said. “(Tournament Director Tom) Hoover does a fantastic job.
“To see how good they had the course after yesterday, I can’t believe it was in as good a shape as it was.”
Fisher started the day with a 1-shot lead after an opening-round 66 on a rainy Saturday. He increased it with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 second but gave it right back when his tee shot on the par-3 third found sand.
Burkett and Niezing also carded a bogey on No. 3 to stay 2 shots back. Sundvold joined them after a bogey on No. 5 but he stuck an approach shot on 6 for an easy birdie putt.
Fisher got to 6-under with a birdie on the par-4 seventh but Sundvold answered with a birdie on the par-5 ninth to stay a shot back.
At the turn, it appeared to be a two-horse race with Fisher and Sundvold ahead by 2 strokes of the field.
“Fish and I are buddies,” said Sundvold, a sophomore at Mizzou. “We told each other once this round started, ‘hey this trophy has got to come back through Columbia.’”
That’s because Fisher picked up a contingent of Columbia golfers, including Sundvold.
“So I told him on 18 if he wanted to beat me he had to find another ride home,” Fisher joked. “We had fun with it. We were cheering each other on.
“He’s a good friend of mine and that made it even more fun.”
Playing two groups ahead, Vernon started his charge on the back 9 where he shot 4-under last year to card a second-round 65.
Vernon, the 2010 champion, sank three straight birdies starting on 12 to get within a stroke of the lead with four holes to play. His 10-foot putt for a fourth straight birdie and a share of the lead, slipped past the hole on 15.
After missing consecutive birdie putts for pars, Vernon’s second shot on 18 missed the green but he finished with a birdie to reach 5-under.
Craig, playing in the second-to-last group, finished birdie-birdie to reach 5-under.
Burkett, who was 1-under for the tournament after 11, got consecutive birdies starting on 12 before three straight pars and a birdie-birdie finish to reach 5-under.
The player with the longest drive — he’s from Jay, Fla. — was one of six players to shoot 3-under 32 on the back 9 Sunday.
Fisher shot even-par on the back 9 Sunday after opening the tournament with a 4-under 32 on the front side Saturday ending with an eagle. In two rounds he carded 10 birdies and 19 pars.
“I just kind of hung in there,” Fisher said. “I kept hitting it to within 20 feet and giving myself decent looks, trying to make a bunch of pars and see if I could chip in with a birdie or two.”
The par-3s nearly derailed Fisher.
His tee shot on 10 landed left of the green, leaving a tough uphill chip and resulting in a bogey. Another miss on the par-3 16th put Fisher at the bottom of a hill left of the green leading to a bogey.
Each time Sundvold carded par to pull even.
On the par-4 11th, however, Sundvold’s second shot missed the green and his par putt missed while Fisher’s birdie attempt came up short for a tap-in to regain the lead.
Sundvold pulled even again on the par-4 13th when his second shot bounced off the flag stick to set up an easy birdie putt.
“It looked good the whole way,” Fisher said. “I thought it went in … I didn’t know it hit the pin. Pretty awesome.
“The kid’s a player, he’s got a bright future.”
This was the first Ozark appearance for Sundvold, who last played Westwood Hills during the 2009 Junior Amateur. He shot 1-under for the first round but consecutive bogeys to start the second ended his title run. He carded 12 pars Sunday while his other bogey came on the par-4 fifth after a longer-than-needed tee shot.
Fisher’s three bogeys came on par-3s, each time knocking him back to 5-under.
Niezing got to 5-under with birdies on Nos. 13 and 15. He played the final 14 holes 3-under, ending with three straight pars to tie for second.
On 17, Sundvold had a chance to take the lead with a tough downhill birdie putt but left it short.
“Walking up there the guys on the back of the green, couldn’t tell if they were Poplar Bluff guys or not, but they were talking about how fast that putt was going to be,” said Sundvold, who avoided disaster by running it past the hole.
Fisher also made a key par save on 17 to stay in the lead.
His tee shot found the high grass on the right side of the 350-yard, par-4 hole but he was able to get it on the green and two-putt for par.
“I was pretty fortunate we were playing it up over there,” Fisher said. “It wasn’t as hard as it probably should have been.”
While the approach on 18 gave him the advantage, Fisher’s second on 17 ended up saving the day.
“When he hit that shot I was happy for him because I didn’t want one of us to fall like that,” Sundvold said.
Fisher’s finish avoided a six-player playoff.
The last playoff came in 2003 while the 1989 Ozark featured a four-way playoff won by Bobby Godwin. The 1-shot victory was also the slimmest margin of victory over two rounds since 2008.
“There were birdies to be made,” Fisher said. “The greens are still the best I’ve probably ever played. If you can get it on the green you can get some pretty good birdie looks.”
Tanner McKinney of Piedmont had the low round of the day at 5-under 66. He finished tied for eighth at 139 with a round that featured six birdies and a bogey. In fact, McKinney was 1-over through five until three birdies over his next four holes.
Phil Caravia of St. Louis tied McKinney at 139 while Lucas Black of Columbia was a shot ahead.
Black, who portrayed Pee Wee Reese in the film “42,” had his best Ozark finish with a 68. His day started birdie-birdie to reach 3-under for the tournament. Black made the turn at 2-under and carded birdies on Nos. 14 and 18.
Defending club champion Ben Brumitt and fellow former Mule Todd Metz finished in a group of five tied at 1-under 140. Bob Hanneken and Tyler Peggs started the day tied at 3-under and finished tied at 140 with Ron Mangold who shot 68.
Jeff Johnson of Ballwin won his second Senior Division title in three years.
Johnson shot consecutive rounds of 71 to finish at even-par 142. His day featured 12 pars and a birdie-eagle finish to win by 3 shots over Ben Cantrell of Cape Girardeau.
Johnson, who was second last year, won the senior title in 2011 and was second in the Championship Division by 2 strokes in 2010.
Don Bliss, the 2010 Senior champ, and Ron Eilers were tied with Johnson at the start of the day but finished at 147 and 148 respectively.
The tournament, presented by Michelob Ultra, featured 140 players from 12 different states.
Ryne Fisher, right, shanks hands with Wilson Sundvold after finishing their round Sunday, April 28, 2013, during the 67th Tom Hoover Ozark Invitational at Westwood Hills Country Club. Fisher won the tournament by a stroke over a group of five players, including Sundvold. (DAILY AMERICAN REPUBLIC/Brian Rosener)