Southern Pines, NC – The final round of the eGolf Tour's Mid Pines Classic was a veritable jigsaw puzzle of contenders throughout much of a steamy afternoon at historic Mid Pines Club. With nearly a dozen players within two shots of the lead at one time or another, former Penn State star T.J. Howe of Osceola, PA emerged victorious, riding a clutch 71st-hole birdie to a final-round 68 and a 72-hole total of 15-under 269, good for his second win of the 2013 season.
Howe, who entered the week on the heels of a recently diagnosed partially torn meniscus in his right knee, spent all four days at the famous 1921 Donald Ross design atop the leaderboard. Opening rounds of 64-68-69—201 gave him a share of the 18-, 36- and 54-hole leads heading into Friday's final round.
Tied alongside Mikel Martinson of Lubbock, TX and Jordan Walor of Wake Forest, NC at 12-under par, Howe's final-round charge looked more like a final-round fumble early in the day, as three pars and a bogey at the driveable par-4 fourth put him at 1-over par on a day when red figures were flying.
"I had gotten off to a slow start these past three days, so it was something I was kind of used to," said Howe, 24. "I missed a short birdie putt on No. 1 that would have got my round going, but instead it slowed it down again. I made a stupid mistake on No. 4 when I hit it in the back bunker, which you can't do. So I paid the penalty there."
Howe's early bogey was offset two holes later by a birdie at the par-5 sixth, which enabled the Nittany Lion diehard to turn at even-par 35, and trailing a suddenly red-hot Harold Varner III by three shots.
Varner, a native of Gastonia, NC, entered Friday just two shots back of the trio of leaders, but blistered the opening nine at Mid Pines, posting four birdies to turn at 31 and 14-under par for the week.
Varner's playing partner (former Augusta State Jaguar) Taylor Floyd of Forsyth, GA was keeping pace, turning at 3-under par to reach 13-under par, just one shot back.
A bogey-birdie stretch by Varner on Nos. 10 and 11 gave way to a Floyd birdie at the par-4 12th, which put both men tied for the lead at 14-under par, playing in the day's penultimate threesome in front of Howe.
Howe, trying to win his second title of the year, birdied the par-5 10th to reach 13-under par, but gave it back three holes later with a three-putt bogey at the lengthy par-3 13th. The bogey, as it turned out, occurred just as he took his first gander at the final-round leaderboard.
"I didn't get anything to fall for the first 13 holes, really," said Howe. "After the three-putt, I was two shots back and thought, ‘Okay, you have to be aggressive now,' so that's kind of when it kicked in that I had to start taking some chances."
Howe's bogey at 13 came on the heels of a Varner bogey on the same hole, which then led to back-to-back birdies by both players on 14 and 15. At 15-under par for the week and one shot clear of Howe and Floyd, Varner looked to ice win No. 1 coming down the demanding three-hole stretch at Mid Pines.
When Varner and Floyd pared the par-4 16th, Howe followed suit, posting a par of his own to stay one shot back walking up to the tee of the dogleg-right par-4 17th.
"On 17, I really didn't see what Harold was doing. I saw him make a 3-footer on the green, thinking it was a par, and knew I really had to try and get a birdie there," said Howe.
The 3-footer referenced was actually for bogey, as a stunned Varner had watched in disbelief moments earlier when his 2-foot par putt did a complete horseshoe around the cup – winding up further from the hole for bogey than he was for par.
The 71st-hole blunder put Howe, Varner and Floyd in a three-way tie for the lead, with Howe still to hit his approach on the 17th.
"I got really aggressive on my wedge shot there on 17," said Howe, who hit his approach to 3 feet from 90 yards. "When I got on the green, I saw that he had actually made bogey, and that's when my juices started flowing a bit."
Howe's 3-foot birdie try on 17 trickled gingerly towards the hole, but found the bottom of the cup for a clutch birdie that gave him the outright lead for the first time all day. At 15-under par heading to the par-4 finishing hole, he simply eyed one last par for one more win.
As Howe was blocking his tee shot on 18 into the right trees, Varner and Floyd were wrapping up closing pars, with Varner scrambling from over the green, and Floyd narrowly missing an 18-foot birdie putt that would have vaulted him to 15-under par. The final-round playing partners each posted 14-under 270, then sat idle as they watched Howe determine their respective fates from the tree-lined waste area adjacent to the narrow fairway.
"I like to hit a cut, but turning down and hitting a draw like you have to on 18 is not exactly my shot," Howe said of his blocked tee shot on 18. "I was lucky to get a decent enough lie in the waste area. I didn't put it on the green, but I put it in a spot from where you can two-putt."
Howe's timely second shot to the back fringe set up a 40-foot birdie attempt, which he ran 3 feet past the hole. Putting through his shadow with both Varner and Floyd looking on, Howe's par putt was center cut, locking up his second win of the season, thanks to a once-unlikely birdie tear over the final five holes.
"I wasn't as nervous over this putt as I thought I'd be," said Howe, who closed with 68 to collect a $16,500 payday. "All you can do is go through your breathing exercises and trust it."
The Mid Pines victory paired with a win earlier this year at the Forest Oaks Classic to push Howe up to No. 3 on the eGolf Tour money list with $50,509 in earnings. After posting just four top-10s in his first 24 starts on tour, Howe has now recorded four in his last nine tournaments, including both wins and a T3 at the Southern Open in July.
"It's hard to realize the progressions you're making when you're actually taking the step," said Howe of his breakthrough year. "I have to realize that I'm there, and now I have to take the next step at Q-School. I've been looking forward to it all year, so it's time to go out, play well and get ready for the real grind."
Howe, like countless other professionals, will head off to Q-School's pre-qualifiygin stage next week to try and play his way onto the 2014 Web.com Tour. Earlier this year, his college roommate Kevin Foley – who won on the eGolf Tour in 2012 across the street at Pine Needles Resort – won the Web.com Tour's Panama Claro Championship, adding further fuel to Howe's now well-lit fire.
"I've thought about that all year. He won early last year out here, then wins again early on the Web.com Tour," Howe said. "It's fun to see, because we were roommates and always pulling for each other, but at the same time you want to be out there and compete against him. I'm ready to buckle down and make the improvements that he's obviously made, and hopefully get out there with him."
Varner and Floyd finished tied for second, one shot back of Howe at 14-under par. Both players earned $8,053 for their play on the week.
For Varner, the T2 finish was yet another close call in an otherwise stellar 2013 campaign. All told, the former ECU Pirate standout has four total top-3 finishes, including three runner-up efforts, this year alone. The Mid Pines runner-up pushed his season-long earnings up to $48,593, good for No. 5 on the tour's money list.
Varner's disappointment was palpable as Howe celebrated the win. The short par miss on 17 left the affable "good guy" a bit perplexed, and perhaps reflective on his other two runner-up finishes this year at both the Founders Club in April and Mimosa Hills in June.
At the Founders Club Classic, Varner dueled with Howe's roommate Cam Burke amidst horrid weather, bogeying the final hole to fall one shot shy. Ironically, at the Mimosa Hills Open, Varner's back-nine battle came against the third member of the Howe-Burke house, Marty Jeppesen, who earned his first tour title outright when Varner narrowly missed a 6-foot birdie putt at the last.
Varner now has six top-10 finishes in his last seven eGolf Tour starts – a stretch that included a start at this year's U.S. Open at famed Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, PA.
Floyd, a member of Augusta State's back-to-back NCAA Championship teams in 2010-2011, played solidly all week, posting just three bogeys in 72 holes to pair alongside an eagle and 15 birdies.
The T2 marked a career-best for the softspoken former Jaguar, who has quietly put together one of the tour's more consistent seasons.
After earning zero top-10s in his first eight starts on the year, Floyd has now amassed five top-10s in his last six tournaments. He is currently 17th on the tour's money list with $27,374 in earnings.
Two-time eGolf Tour winner and 2005 leading money winner David Sanchez of Huntersville, NC finished in solo-fourth place with rounds of 66-67-72-66—271. The former N.C. State "All American" posted his 5-under 66 on Friday early, then waited to see if the four-day tally would be enough to earn a playoff berth. He earned $5,000 for his efforts.
Sanchez's week was a tale of three ups and one down, as only his 1-over 72 on Thursday featured a bogey on his scorecard. His 66, 67 and 66 on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, respectively, were all bogey-free.
Mid Pines Classic
Mid Pines Club
Par 71; 6,528 yards
1. T.J. Howe, Osceola, PA, $16,500.00, *64-68-69-68-269 -15
2. Harold Varner III, Gastonia, NC, $8,053.00, *68-70-65-67-270 -14
2. Taylor Floyd, Forsyth, GA, $8,053.00, *70-67-66-67-270 -14
4. David Sanchez, Huntersville, NC, $5,000.00, *66-67-72-66-271 -13
5. Matthew Ryan, Santa Clarita, CA, $3,437.50, *72-67-65-68-272 -12
5. Jeff Curl, Birmingham, AL, $3,437.50, *70-68-67-67-272 -12
5. Justin Peters, Stuart, FL, $3,437.50, *65-68-70-69-272 -12
5. Timothy Madigan, Rio Rancho, NM, $3,437.50, *67-66-69-70-272 -12
9. Mikel Martinson, Lubbock, TX, $2,800.00, *71-65-65-72-273 -11
10. Lanto Griffin, Blacksburg, VA, $2,550.00, *70-67-70-67-274 -10
10. Steven Lee, Columbus, OH, $2,550.00, *69-70-68-67-274 -10
10. Frank Adams III, Salisbury, NC, $2,550.00, *65-70-70-69-274 -10
10. John Hahn, Las Vegas, NV, $2,550.00, *68-66-69-71-274 -10
14. Drew Weaver, Sea Island, GA, $2,200.00, *69-69-70-67-275 -9
14. Jack Fields, Southern Pines, NC, $2,200.00, *73-67-67-68-275 -9
14. Jordan Walor, Wake Forest, NC, $2,200.00, *64-68-69-74-275 -9
17. Kyle Gallo, Berlin, CT, $2,025.00, *69-68-71-68-276 -8
17. Seamus Power, Ireland, $2,025.00, *67-68-71-70-276 -8
19. Jesse Hutchins, Kirkersville, OH, $1,875.00, *70-67-71-69-277 -7
19. Travis Ross, Crookston, MN, $1,875.00, *70-68-71-68-277 -7
19. Horacio Leon, Tequesta, FL, $1,875.00, *70-69-68-70-277 -7
19. Clark Klaasen, Grand Rapids, MI, $1,875.00, *73-68-69-67-277 -7
23. Chris McCartin, Raleigh, NC, $1,750.00, *66-69-73-70-278 -6
24. Brad Miller, Timonium, MD, $1,575.00, *68-72-68-71-279 -5
24. Garland Green, Tazewell, VA, $1,575.00, *72-68-68-71-279 -5
24. Mitchell Krywulycz, Australia, $1,575.00, *72-65-72-70-279 -5
24. Matt Schall, Williamsport, PA, $1,575.00, *67-67-72-73-279 -5
24. Daniel Bowden, Easley, SC, $1,575.00, *70-69-65-75-279 -5
24. Corbin Mills, Easley, SC, $1,575.00, *71-70-71-67-279 -5
30. Will Collins, Salisbury, NC, $1,343.75, *67-74-66-73-280 -4
30. Henry Zaytoun, Raleigh, NC, $1,343.75, *70-70-69-71-280 -4
30. Kevin McLister, Charlotte, NC, $1,343.75, *73-68-69-70-280 -4
30. Ricky McDonald, Shoreline, WA, $1,343.75, *70-70-72-68-280 -4
34. Fielding Brewbaker, Salem, VA, $1,262.50, *70-70-70-71-281 -3
34. Fernando Figueroa, Chapel Hill, NC, $1,262.50, *70-69-72-70-281 -3
36. Lee Heaton, Surrey, England, $1,162.50, *69-72-68-73-282 -2
36. Charlie Winegardner, Lothian, MD, $1,162.50, *70-67-73-72-282 -2
36. Jacob Burger, Orangeburg, SC, $1,162.50, *69-72-69-72-282 -2
36. Brad Helton, Knoxville, TN, $1,162.50, *66-71-74-71-282 -2
36. Dustin Bray, Charleston, SC, $1,162.50, *70-69-73-70-282 -2
36. Phillip Mollica, Greenville, SC, $1,162.50, *71-69-72-70-282 -2
42. Chris Gallagher, Charlotte, NC, $1,062.50, *70-71-66-76-283 -1
42. Andy Bare, West End, NC, $1,062.50, *74-67-70-72-283 -1
44. David Sanders, Mt. Laurel, NJ, $1,025.00, *68-70-71-75-284 E
45. Andrew Gai, Westport, CT, $975.00, *68-68-74-75-285 +1
45. Chip Lynn, Lillington, NC, $975.00, *75-66-71-73-285 +1
45. Adam Webb, Ridgeway, VA, $975.00, *69-72-73-71-285 +1
48. Brian Rowell, Lafayette, LA, $940.00, *68-69-71-78-286 +2
49. Jonathan Fricke, Covington, GA, $925.00, *70-68-69-80-287 +3
49. Will Bowman, Greensboro, NC, $925.00, *72-69-72-74-287 +3
51. Wills Smith, Savannah, GA, $905.00, *72-68-73-76-289 +5
51. Tyler Way, Charlotte, NC, $905.00, *70-71-73-75-289 +5
53. Drew Perry, Charlotte, NC, $890.00, *67-69-77-77-290 +6
54. Ryan Terdik, Ontario, Canada, $880.00, *70-70-77-74-291 +7
55. Drew Carlson, Orlando, FL, $865.00, *70-71-77-76-294 +10
55. Mitch Bagley, Midlothian, VA, $865.00, *70-71-78-75-294 +10
DQ. Issei Suenaga, Tustin, CA, $850.00, *-6
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