(from Chris Lang with the VSGA)
ROANOKE — As Lanto Griffin and Mark Lawrence Jr. dueled it out on the back nine on a muggy July afternoon at Ballyhack Golf Club, Jay Woodson loitered in the clubhouse, keeping a keen eye on the live scoring on a projection screen.
Woodson, who opened the third and final round of the Delta Dental State Open of Virginia eight shots back of the leader Lawrence, went out Saturday morning in the fourth to last group, posted a tidy 65 and waited.
When Griffin and Lawrence, with chances to seal the tournament, both missed putts on No. 18, it opened the door for Woodson in a three-man playoff. He outlasted his two fellow competitors, sinking a 12-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to secure his fourth State Open of Virginia championship.
“When that happens, there’s a lot of luck involved. All you can do is take care of your part of it,” said Woodson, who shot 73-70-65 for a three-day aggregate 208 and earned the Farmington Trophy for his win. “You’ve got to play the best golf you can.”
Woodson certainly did that, and put himself in fine position to take advantage of any stumbles above him on the leaderboard. His 7-under round included eight birdies and one bogey. He had only made eight birdies in the first two rounds combined. Meanwhile, Griffin shot 71 and Lawrence returned a 73, landing Woodson a spot in the playoff.
Griffin, who shot 67-70-71, and Lawrence, who posted rounds of 68-67-73 over the three days, had their chances to win. Griffin got to 11 under after making birdie on No. 10 and held a three-stroke lead over
Lawrence. But he yanked his drive left on the reachable par-4 11th, lost a ball in the hazard, and made bogey after taking a penalty stroke and failing to get up and down for par. Lawrence had a chance to make it a two-shot swing, but he missed a short birdie putt. Griffin made another mistake on No. 14, his tee shot ending up left of the fairway in a hazard. He took another penalty stroke, then left his third shot short of the green and failed to get up and down for bogey.
“I was just sliding into it. I hit them off the toe,” Griffin said. “It’s one thing I’ve been working on. But under pressure, it comes out even more.”
Lawrence made par on that hole to move into a tie for the lead at 8 under, but he missed a short birdie putt that would have given him the lead. He also missed a short birdie putt on No. 11 when Griffin faltered.
“If I had made any putts today, it would have been a little different story,” said Lawrence, who earned the Fritz Souder Trophy as the Open’s low amateur. “I couldn’t touch the hole outside of five feet. I just wasn’t going my way. It happens.”
Both players birdied the par-5 15th to get to 9 under, though Griffin missed an eight-foot eagle putt that would have put him back out in front. Despite the struggles with the putter on birdie attempts, Lawrence got up and down on Nos. 16 and 17 for par. Griffin made bogey on No. 16, and Lawrence went to the 18th hole with a one-shot lead and a chance to win the tournament.
Lawrence’s drive went left into the second cut, and his approach flew right into a greenside bunker. Griffin’s approach left him 10 feet from the hole, but he two putted for par. Lawrence got out of the bunker and had a reasonable putt for par, but he pushed it left to fall to 8 under, forcing the playoff.
Lawrence, who birdied No. 18 the first two days, bogeyed it a second time on the first hole of the playoff, leaving Griffin and Woodson to play for the championship.
“I was disappointed in myself for not finishing off a tournament that I had a very, very good opportunity to win,” Lawrence said.
Griffin and Woodson returned to the 18th tee for a second playoff hole, and Griffin’s drive went right, hit a tree and settled underneath it. Woodson poked his drive straight in the middle of the fairway. Griffin’s approached ended up well left of the hole, some 60 feet away. Woodson put his within 12 feet, setting up the winning putt.
“When I hit it, I thought I had hit a good putt, at least to the best of my feel,” Woodson said. “I started it on a good line. I thought it had good speed. It started to leak a little bit, and I’m like, ‘hang on, hang on!’ It just had enough.”
Woodson became the first player in the merged Open era to win four championships. Faber Jamerson and Keith Decker each won three. The VPGA and VSGA Opens merged in 1985, creating one Open championship in the commonwealth.
Woodson, based in Powhatan, won $7,200 as the low professional. The total purse for the championship was $70,000, an 18-percent increase from 2015. Thirty-one professionals and 30 amateurs made the cut after Friday’s second round.
Professionals Geoff Montross, PGA, and Steven Jenkins tied for fourth at 210. Professional Troy Thorne, PGA, and amateur Ben Campbell (Clear Creek GC) tied for sixth at 211. Professionals Jimmy Flippen Jr. and Fielding Brewbaker shot 212 to finish in a tie for eighth. Amateurs Logan Yates (Greene Hills Club) and Scott Shingler (Evergreen CC) posted three-day 214s to tie for 10th with professional Steven Delmar, the 18-hole leader who struggled to a 76 on Saturday.
Lawrence will play in the Cardinal Amateur in North Carolina and the Valentine Invitational on his home course at Hermitage CC before starting his season at Virginia Tech in August. Griffin and Woodson, touring professionals, are sure to see each other on the road at Web.com Monday qualifiers and PGA Tour Latinoamerica events.
But Woodson won’t soon forget a special Saturday at Ballyhack, where he shot the lowest final-round score for a champion since Decker shot 64 to close out his second championship in 2001.
“It’s kind of a whirlwind when stuff like this happens,” Woodson said. “You’re not expecting it. Then all of a sudden, boom, you’re in a playoff, and you’re like wait a second. I was eight shots back to start the day. I didn’t talk to you guys all week.”