Blythewood, SC – In the months leading in to the eGolf Tour's Columbia Classic, Matt Ryan of Santa Clarita, CA had spent countless hours working on his short game, using Phil Mickelson-like games to improve his play around the greens and prepare himself for the next level, as well as a stretch run of events leading into Web.com Tour Q-School. One of the games was called "3-6-9," whereby he was forced to make a number of putts from 3 feet, 6 feet and 9 feet in order to go home. One single miss and he had to start again.
On the final hole of the Columbia Classic on Friday, Ryan stared down a 9-foot par putt for the win – one he approached with a wry grin on his face.
"I bent down to read the putt, saw it was left edge, and started smiling," he said. "I had hit that same putt so many times in my drill, saying, ‘This is for the win,' and here it was, actually for the win. I just knew I was going to make it."
Ryan's clutch par putt at the last delivered a final-round 71, a 14-under 202 total, and his third career eGolf Tour title.
The former Fresno State standout opened his week with rounds of 63-68—131 (13-under) to hold both the 18- and 36-hole leads entering Friday's third and final round. With a one-shot lead over former U.S. Walker Cup team member Adam Mitchell of Atlanta, GA, Ryan set out to collect his third tour title in two years, but it certainly wasn't easy.
After two days of red numbers and birdies flying, Ryan's opening nine read like a study in consistency, with one birdie at the par-5 third and eight pars to give him a 1-under 35 on his outward nine. The somewhat sluggish start left him tied with Taylor Floyd of Forsyth, GA, who birdied four of his first seven holes en route to a 4-under 32, reaching 14-under par for the week in the process.
With the wind beginning to pick up, both Floyd and Ryan saw bogeys galore on the closing nine of the Ellis Maples-designed course.
After briefly taking the lead with a birdie at the par-4 10th, Floyd immediately gave two shots back with bogeys on 11 and 13 to fall back to 13-under par for the tournament.
Ryan, doing his best to keep a somewhat temperamental driver in play, bogeyed 11 as well, then missed a 3-foot birdie try two holes later that would have given him the outright lead.
On the par-3 14th, a clutch pitch by Ryan set up a 3-foot par save to stay at 13-under, tied with Floyd, but the putter let him down, dropping the lefty to 12-under par for the tournament – suddenly one shot back of the lead.
"My short game was really good today, especially my chipping around the greens," said Ryan, 27. "I was getting frustrated on the back nine though, because I was hitting good shots and not making any putts."
With Floyd birdieing the par-5 15th in front of him, Ryan kept himself calm and in the present, converting yet another up and in for birdie on the same hole to stay one shot back, and within striking distance.
On the narrow par-4 16th, Floyd hit one of his worst tee shots of the day well right, in turn forcing the former Augusta State star to pitch his second shot out and left of the green. A solid third left him 5 feet for par, but when that putt failed to drop, the two players were suddenly tied again at 13-under par.
After a "bombed" tee shot on 16, Ryan hit his second from 121 yards to 4 feet, setting up a short birdie try that he managed to convert to gain the outright lead for the first time since the sixth hole.
"I thought I was one back going into 16 after I birdied 15, but then on 17 I peeked at the scoreboard and saw that I was actually one up," said Ryan, who glanced at the board after hitting yet another stout pitch shot to 2 feet.
The penultimate hole save kept Ryan at 14-under par, still one clear of Floyd, who pared his final two holes for a final-round 69 and a 13-under 203 total in the clubhouse.
Needing par to win, Ryan's tee shot on the par-4 18th found a left-side fairway bunker, which actually left a decent angle to the hole's back-right hole location. His second shot, however, left much to be desired, as a slight pull coupled with a strong down and left-to-right wind to send his ball well right of the green, roughly 25 yards from the hole – and with little green to work with.
"I actually carry a card with me with a saying from my old college coach. He used to say, ‘You always seem to get the tough up-and-down,' so that's what I kept saying to myself," said Ryan, who needed to par the last in order to avoid a playoff with Floyd.
With a decent lie in the rough, Ryan flopped his third shot onto the green – exactly 9 feet below the hole.
"I looked at the putt and knew I had hit it 100 times. I had actually said in my practice sessions last week, ‘This is to win at Columbia.' I just had to make it," Ryan said.
With a stern breeze continuing to blow, Ryan's short game work paid $14,000 worth of dividends, as the firmly-struck par try found nothing but the bottom of the cup – all but confirming his countless hours spent playing games with his short game had in fact paid off.
"It feels great to win again, because this year has been brutal. I've been making cuts, and I feel like I'm better, but the results just haven't been there," said Ryan, who moved to 15th on the money list with his win. "The way I won was really cool. Just the fact that it wasn't a basic two-putt and I had to make it there on 18 was great."
Ryan, who entered the week with just one top-10 on the year, credited roommate and two-time eGolf Tour winner Seamus Power with his improved short game.
"He's the best out here from inside 30 yards. It's unbelievable how good he is," said Ryan after Wednesday's 63. "I've learned by watching him and he's helped me so much with drills and games and fundamentals. It's been a huge help."
The win was Ryan's third in the past 24 months on the eGolf Tour, dating back to his maiden title at the 2011 Spring Creek Classic and the 2012 Championship at River Run. His three-win tally during that span is second only to Ryan Nelson, who has five total wins over the past 26 months – and four during the 24-month span where Ryan collected his three.
Floyd wound up in solo-second place for the week, earning $8,000 for his efforts.
As a member of Augusta State's victorious 2010 NCAA Championship team, Floyd was once best known for his heroic play in that year's championship match, where he was literally forced to have a flu-driven IV pulled out of his arm in order to compete. The unlikely team championship gave way to yet another title in 2011, which sent some of Augusta, Georgia's most popular young men into the professional ranks, and onto the eGolf Tour.
In 2012, former Jaguar star Henrik Norlander earned his first pro title at the tour's Olde Sycamore Open before playing his way onto the PGA TOUR later that fall at Q-School. In May of this year, fellow teammate Mitch Krywulycz picked up win No. 1 at the eGolf Tour's Sedgefield Classic. While Floyd is still looking for that first win, it certainly hasn't been for lack of effort.
Over the past three months, the soft-spoken Floyd has been one of the tour's most consistent performers, earning six top-8 finishes over a seven-tournament stretch to move up to No. 12 on the tour's money list. During that stretch, he has posted a masterful 17 of 24 rounds in the 60s.
Sam Beach of Glen Allen, VA and Travis Ross of Crookston, MN tied for third place with matching totals of 11-under 205. Both players had an opportunity to apply clubhouse pressure with a birdie at the last to reach 13-under, yet both wound up with bogeys, settling three shots back of Ryan. Beach and Ross earned $5,350 for the week.
For Beach, the T3 was a third top-3 effort in a solid 2013 campaign. The former University of Richmond golfer previously earned a career-best T2 finish at the Southern Open in July, and a T3 at the Palisades Classic in May.
Ross, a native of Minnesota, current Charlotte, NC resident and former University of New Mexico standout, has had without doubt his best season as a professional in 2013. The affable 25-year-old has now made 17 of 18 cuts on the year, posting six top-10 finishes and a workmanlike 13 top-25s. He is currently 11th on the tour's money list with $42,680 in season-long earnings.
Columbia Country Club (Ridge/Tall)
Par 72; 7,150 yards
1. Matthew Ryan, Santa Clarita, CA, $14,000.00, *63-68-71-202 -14
2. Taylor Floyd, Forsyth, GA, $8,000.00, *67-67-69-203 -13
3. Sam Beach, Glen Allen, VA, $5,350.00, *70-68-67-205 -11
3. Travis Ross, Crookston, MN, $5,350.00, *69-66-70-205 -11
5. Dykes Harbin, Augusta, GA, $3,077.50, *71-69-66-206 -10
5. Jack Fields, Southern Pines, NC, $3,077.50, *69-71-66-206 -10
5. Adam Mitchell, Atlanta, GA, $3,077.50, *66-66-74-206 -10
5. Bruce Woodall, Yanceyville, NC, $3,077.50, *67-67-72-206 -10
9. Mitchell Krywulycz, Australia, $2,125.00, *70-68-69-207 -9
9. Anthony Aloi, Greenville, SC, $2,125.00, *72-67-68-207 -9
9. Will Collins, Salisbury, NC, $2,125.00, *68-68-71-207 -9
9. Brad Benjamin, Rockford, IL, $2,125.00, *70-70-67-207 -9
13. Frank Adams III, Salisbury, NC, $1,660.00, *69-69-70-208 -8
13. Daniel Bowden, Easley, SC, $1,660.00, *68-70-70-208 -8
13. Phillip Mollica, Greenville, SC, $1,660.00, *74-63-71-208 -8
13. Bryan Bigley, Schenectady, NY, $1,660.00, *71-67-70-208 -8
13. Drew Weaver, Sea Island, GA, $1,660.00, *70-67-71-208 -8
18. Brian Duncan, Mount Pleasant, SC, $1,450.00, *71-68-70-209 -7
18. Kyle Thompson, Greer, SC, $1,450.00, *72-66-71-209 -7
18. Dustin Bray, Charleston, SC, $1,450.00, *69-68-72-209 -7
21. Fielding Brewbaker, Salem, VA, $1,221.43, *69-70-71-210 -6
21. Ricky McDonald, Shoreline, WA, $1,221.43, *72-66-72-210 -6
21. Colin Biles, Columbus, OH, $1,221.43, *70-69-71-210 -6
21. Damian Telles, The Dalles, OR, $1,221.43, *70-69-71-210 -6
21. Corbin Mills, Easley, SC, $1,221.43, *71-69-70-210 -6
21. Barrett Kelpin, Kalamazoo, MI, $1,221.43, *69-71-70-210 -6
21. David Sanchez, Huntersville, NC, $1,221.43, *69-72-69-210 -6
28. Crawford Reeves, Greer, SC, $1,060.00, *68-70-73-211 -5
28. Jonas Enander Hedin, Charlotte, NC, $1,060.00, *71-68-72-211 -5
28. Garland Green, Tazewell, VA, $1,060.00, *70-67-74-211 -5
28. Ryan Sullivan, Winston-Salem, NC, $1,060.00, *67-73-71-211 -5
28. Chip Lynn, Lillington, NC, $1,060.00, *70-71-70-211 -5
33. Chris Gallagher, Charlotte, NC, $980.00, *67-71-74-212 -4
33. Adam Webb, Ridgeway, VA, $980.00, *70-69-73-212 -4
33. Drew Perry, Charlotte, NC, $980.00, *69-69-74-212 -4
36. Timothy Madigan, Rio Rancho, NM, $930.00, *66-72-75-213 -3
36. John Hahn, Las Vegas, NV, $930.00, *73-67-73-213 -3
38. Trevor Banks, Lancaster, SC, $890.00, *71-68-75-214 -2
38. Seamus Power, Ireland, $890.00, *72-69-73-214 -2
38. T.J. Mitchell, Athens, GA, $890.00, *68-73-73-214 -2
1336 Augusta West Parkway
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