Thomas drives away with BMW

Writing from Medinah, Illinois

Sunday, August 18, 2019 

Justin Thomas made 27 birdies and two eagles this week on Medinah No. 3, but the biggest reaction he made all week came when he sank a 14-foot putt to save par on the treacherous par-4 12th hole.

An instant after the ball tumbled into the cup, Thomas’ right fist punched the air. His lead over challenger Patrick Cantlay in the BMW Championship would remain three strokes. It had been six at the start of the day, then was whittled to five, four and then two with a two-shot swing on the par-5 10th. Thomas had birdied the 11th with a lovely pitch to two feet to go three strokes ahead, but with Cantlay threatening, he couldn’t afford another miscue.

Thus, the long punch-out to the fairway after finding the right rough off the tee, followed by the pitch to 14 feet. Followed by, to his great relief, the par-saving putt.

“The birdie on 11 was big but the par on 12 was bigger,” Thomas said. “The tee shot was right behind a tree, and Jimmy (Johnson, his caddie) said, ‘Chip it out.’ That putt gave me a lot of momentum.”

Enough for him to grab the BMW Championship by the keyring and drive away with it.

Cantlay would get no closer than three strokes the rest of the way, and while Hideki Matsuyama, who needed only 20 putts in slapping his second 63 in three days on the scoreboard, he was never a threat.

Thomas’ total is almost a typographical error: 25-under-par 263 with a finishing 4-under 68. Cantlay’s runner-up total of 22-under 266 with a closing 7-under 65 would have won all but seven of the 116 playings of the Western Open / BMW. Hideki Matsuyama took third at 20-under 268 by throwing a second 9-under 63 in three days into the fight. And he was still five strokes back. 

Tony Finau’s score of 18-under 270, good for solo fourth place, was the winning score of Tiger Woods at the 2006 PGA. The ghost of Tom Bendelow, the original architect of No. 3, must be wondering what the royal and ancient game has come to.

While Thomas moseyed about Medinah like it was his personal playground as some 35,000 fans looked on, appearances deceived.

“I was really nervous driving to the course,” Thomas said. “Time to put the phone away. Then the locker room guys giving me advice on how to finish off a tournament. I was like, ‘I’ve done this a couple times, guys, but thank you.’ It’s a lot of the outside noise that makes it harder sometimes to stay focused.”

Turned out having a six-stroke lead made him more nervous than a pot of coffee, and invited the world to offer a pat on the back.

“I had guys telling me congratulations on the front nine, on No. 13,” Thomas said. “This tournament is far from over.”

Thomas was 1-under on the front nine and even for the day after a bogey on the 10th hole, but hammered a wedge out of the right rough on the par-4 11th to two feet for a birdie he said “propelled me.” He might have been too giddy given the next tee shot, but the big save steadied him and he played final final six holes in three under, sinking an 11-footer on the par-3 13th, a 4-foot, 9-inch putt on the par-4 15th, and a 14-footer at the par-4 18th, right after Cantlay closed with a 38-foot birdie.

Even that wasn’t good enough the way Thomas could seemingly summon the ball to disappear when he needed to down the stretch.

“I think I needed to make the putts on 12, 14 or 15 if I really wanted to get some momentum on my side,” said Cantlay, who birdied only the 15th, of those three holes, but missed a 19-footer for eagle after driving the green on the 291-yard hole. “Him saving par on 12 was big, and I tried to get one back on 13 (sinking a 15-footer for birdie) and he made it (from 12 feet) on top of me. I thought I hit good putts on 14 and 15 and they didn’t go in.

“He just played really well, and it was going to be hard for me to get to 25-under anyway.”

The triumph not only made Thomas $1.655 million richer, it vaulted him to the top see in next week’s Tour Championship. Under the curious handicap scoring system concocted by the PGA Tour’s skunk works, Thomas will be listed as 10-under on the scoreboard before he strikes a ball in anger. Cantlay, the No. 2 seed, will be 8-under, and so on until the final five players in the 30-man field, including Bryson DeChambeau, start at even par.

“I can certainly say one thousand percent I never slept on a Wednesday lead,” Thomas said to laughter.

The race to East Lake

Matsuyama, Lucas Glover and Jason Kokrak climbed into the top 30 and are off to Atlanta for a shot at the pot of gold, while Shane Lowry, Andrew Putnam and Harold Varner III dropped out to make room the them.

Tiger Woods finished tied for 37th at 7-under 281 and well out of the running to defend the Tour Championship he captured last year. He needed to finish 11th or thereabouts to have a chance at moving on.

“I didn’t have the short game I needed to make a run,” Woods said.

Only twice in 18 holes did his approach shot land within 20 feet of the cup.

“I don’t know if it’s reps or not. I didn’t have a feel for what I needed to do this week. I struggled out of the bunkers this week, especially today. I misjudged the sand – some were hard, some had some softness to it.”

Around Medinah

Phil Mickelson changed his shoes in the parking lot and hit only a few drives and chips before getting to the first tee, the hectic regimen because lighting struck the Eaglewood Resort and started a small fire during an early-morning thunderstorm. Mickelson evacuated but left his clubs and golf clothes in his top-floor suite. They were retrieved just in time. “The building got struck by lightning right above me and blew out a brick chimney,” Mickelson said. … To the PGA Tour’s credit, the round was played by USGA rules with the ball down, rather than the “lift, clean and place” local rule commonly used after heavy rains. Medinah was socked by over 3/4 of an inch of rain in the early morning, and 1.94 inches for the week. “I was very surprised,” Woods said of the decision. … Matsuyama’s 20-putt final round is the lowest for a Western Open in the Shotlink era. The PGA Tour mark is 18, shared by 10 players. … The scoring average for the week was 69.928, precisely 2.072 strokes under par, while the Round 4 average of 70.420 was the highest of the week. … There were seven bogey-free rounds on Sunday, jumping the week’s total to 34. Matsuyama, Tommy Fleetwood, Vaught Taylor and Brandt Snedeker each had two of them. … The announcement of BMW’s three-year extension as sponsor of the tournament neglected to mention the length, though that has been confirmed, came out Sunday rather than Tuesday after a clash of egos within the automaker, and was never issued as a printed release despite, or perhaps because of, three PR operations being involved. … Next year’s BMW is at Olympia Fields Country Club in south suburban Olympia Fields, which has hosted five previous Western Opens, the most recent, in 1971, won by Bruce Crampton.

Tim Cronin



Thomas' 61 tames Medinah's monster

Writing from Medinah, Illinois

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Justin Thomas had a bogey on the front nine of Medinah’s No. 3 course on Saturday.

He put a ball in the water on the back nine.

And he shot 61.

The course-record 63 set by Hideki Matsuyama on Friday lasted about 26 hours. Thomas blew it away with a performance that included two eagles, eight birdies, a bogey and seven pars, including a save after splashing his tee shot on the par-4 15th.

Thomas leads by six entering the final round, which means this edition of the BMW Championship is over. In the previous 115 playings of the Western Open / BMW, nobody has lost a lead this large after 54 holes.

Don’t tell Thomas that. He plans to mash the gas pedal when he tees off at 12:20 p.m.

“I just want to get the lead to seven as fast as I can, and then get the lead to eight,” Thomas said. “Those guys are going to come out firing. I can’t control what they do. I’m not going out there tomorrow trying to par every hole. If I hit the first fairway, I’ve got a wedge on my hand.”

Thomas needed only 22 putts, and none on the uphill par-4 16th, where he holed out a 179-yard 8-iron, then aimed his index finger on his right hand upward as if to say, “That’s one.” It was actually his second eagle of a back nine that totaled 6-under 30. His 5-wood from 259 yards on the 577-yard 10th hole crept to within three feet of the cup.

“When I put my ball down, a guy went ‘Noonan!’ Thomas said. “Now I’m thinking, ‘Is he gonna say something when I hit it?’ ”

He didn’t, and the ball plunked into the cup, moving him to 17-under-par. He was already in the lead, but that stretched his advantage over Patrick Cantlay and playing partner Tony Finau to three strokes. The rest of the field already needed binoculars to see him. By the end of the round, when he rolled in a four-footer for par at the last for 61 and 21-under 195, a telescope was necessary.

Thomas had opened with birdies on his first five holes before a bogey at No. 6. Thomas will have Finau – whose hole-out for eagle on the par-4 fourth was relegated to the cutting-room floor thanks to Thomas – and Cantlay in his threesome on Sunday, with split tees used to dodge expected overnight weather. Rory Sabbatini is seven strokes back, Jon Rahm eight behind, and everybody else is a rumor. 

Imagine for a moment that you are Gary Woodland, the National Open champion. You had a chance to match Matsuyama’s 63, but missed a seven-foot birdie putt at the last. You still had an eight-birdie, no-bogey 64, but will be tied for 18th, a dozen strokes behind Thomas, beginning the final round.

The scoring average of 69.667 was 2.333 strokes under par and the sixth-best round in relation to par in tournament history. But it’s not because Medinah is an architectural pushover, insisted both Thomas and Tiger Woods, twice a winner on this leafy acreage.

“It doesn’t matter what golf course it is,” Thomas said. “With soft greens and soft fairways, we’re going to tear it apart.”

Woods, desperate for a low round to advance to East Lake and defend his Tour Championship of last year, agreed.

“We all thought this was one of the more tough and bigger ballparks, and the whole field is playing well,” Woods said after his 5-under 67, his first bogey-free round on the circuit since the third round of last year’s BMW regatta at Aronimink Golf Club. “Normally a few guys are struggling. The entire field playing well is something that we’re all pretty surprised at.

“I think that’s the way the new game is played. When I first came out on Tour and before me especially, there’s a lot of 1-irons and stuff off the tees. Just kind of get it in play. Now you just pull out driver, bomb it down there and you’re looking for three to four good weeks a year. That’s how you play.

“It’s not the consistency, it’s not about making a bunch of cuts. With today’s equipment you can maximize a driver and just absolutely bomb it; some of the guys sacrifice stuff around the greens or short irons for the driver. The driver is the most important club in the bag now because of the way the game is played.”

Woods will start 14 strokes behind Thomas, the poster boy for the mantra this week: Go low or go home.

The 69 players in the field have been thinking that all week, especially now, as their Sunday morning tee times approach.

Go low, and you may go to Atlanta, where only 30 spots are available in next week’s Tour Championship, the one offering glory and a pot of gold.

Don’t go low, and you may be one of the 39 who will go home.

Those stakes almost make the notion of capturing the BMW and its $1.665 million first prize secondary, though nobody will say that on the record, especially when BMW’s extension of its sponsorship for three more years through 2022 will be announced on Sunday.

Regardless, WGA brass will likely shove the J.K. Wadley Trophy into Thomas’s hands on Sunday afternoon. He, at least, says the task at hand is the only thing on his mind at the moment. Others will says he’s been unconscious this week.

And remember Matsuyama, whose 63 broke the course record by two strokes way back on Friday? He scored 1-over 73 on Saturday and is 10 strokes behind. Fame is fleeting when you’re at Medinah, the former monster where bogeys go to die.

Last chance for Tigermania?

Woods kidded after his Saturday 67 that his target score for Sunday’s final round was 60.

It might be the final time he plays competitive golf in the neighborhood. Those who want to watch the best player since Jack Nicklaus in person would do well to come out to Medinah as early as possible for his 10:30 a.m. tee time.

At 43 and with a back that is as dependable as a 3-year-old’s memory, and with the potential of cutting back his schedule, there’s no reason to expect Woods to be among the top 70 players in the standings at this time next year, when he’s 44 and the BMW is played at Olympia Fields Country Club. With or without a renewal by the automaker, the tournament is expected to resume rotating in and out of town.

Woods drew the largest galleries on Thursday and Friday at Medinah, and another throng on Saturday, when he teed off with Dustin Johnson at 9 a.m. Early birds were treated to Woods’ 67, while Johnson was lackluster in scoring even par 72.

“I didn’t have any stupid mistakes where I made bogey from bad spots or from easy spots,” Woods said. “I did the little things and was able to keep the momentum going and made a couple putts here and there.”

Woods missed six greens but salvaged par each time, the result of cleaning up the little things.

“Nice to at least give myself a chance to make it to next week,” Woods said.

Around Medinah

The extension of BMW’s sponsorship, first reported by the Chicago Tribune on Tuesday, has been confirmed by two sources within the WGA. What is not settled is where the tournament will be played beyond next year at Olympia Fields. … As things stand now, Matsuyama, Lucas Glover and Rory Sabbatini would jump into the top 30 in the season standings, and Shane Lowry, Andrew Putnam and Harold Varner III would fall out. That’s no real worry to Lowry, eligible for all the majors next year thanks to his British Open victory. … A 76-minute delay for severe weather that turned out to only be a heavy rain with no electricity softened Medinah even more, making fairways that much more likely to hit. … A bunch of Chicago Bears led by quarterback Mitch Trubisky visited on Saturday and spent some of their time hanging out with Evans Scholars.

Tim Cronin



Matsuyama shatters Medinah’s course record: 63!

Writing from Medinah, Illinois

Friday, August 16, 2019

Now it’s getting silly.

Hideki Matsuyama birdied half the holes on Medinah No. 3 on Friday and scored a course-record 9-under-par 63, breaking the previous competitive mark by two strokes. And he parred the par-5s on the back nine en route to the record and the 36-hole lead in the BMW Championship.

Kevin Tway shot 5-under 67 with two bogeys.

Tommy Fleetwood shot 6-under 66 with two bogeys.

Hey, GPS, are you sure this is Medinah Country Club’s big course? The one nicknamed “the Monster” during the run of U.S. Opens the layout hosted?

No disrespect to our friends in Silvis, but the numbers on the scoreboard shout TPC Deere Run, not Medinah.

There’s good reason for the barrage of birdies, of course. Today’s player is skilled beyond reason, and bolstered by a battery of swing and psychological coaches who attend to his every need. His clubs are selected not only for loft and swingweight, but how the shaft reacts at various points in the swing, all to achieve the maximum velocity at the proper launch angle for liftoff.

It’s enough to make you think Golf Channel should be replaced by NASA TV in the next television deal with the PGA Tour. Brandel Chamblee, meet the ghost of Jules Bergman.

The combination of skill, support and technology – to say nothing of agronomy, for Medinah’s lush fairways and greens are beautiful enough to hang in the Art Institute – adds up to low numbers every week on the American tour. Even at Medinah, whose reputation took a dent in the 1990 U.S. Open, when records for rounds under par were set for that storied championship, these numbers are insanely low. The members are going to wonder which holes Matsuyama skipped.

For the record, he birdied the first, fourth, fifth, seventh, eighth, 12th, 13th, 17th and 18th holes. On the last two holes, he made 23- and 30-foot putts for a deuce and a three, respectively. That contributed to the 165 feet, 8 inches of putts he made during the round. That averages out to making a 9-foot, 2-inch putt on each hole.

“I wish I knew why I putted so well today,” Matsuyama said through an interpreter. “I have seen and received a lot of advice – good advice – from some real good putting professional and I’m starting to get that feeling back that I had three years ago when I putted well.

“And I’m happy about that.”

The toil earned Matsuyama a two-round aggregate of 12-under 132 and a one-stroke lead on Patrick Cantlay (5-under 67) and Tony Finau (6-under 66) entering Saturday’s third round. All three players were bogey-free on Friday, as were four others.

Cantlay added his 67 to an opening 66 for a near-painless 11-under 133. He’s bogey-free his last 30 holes, and was unbothered by a wind shift from north to south.

“It turned almost 180 degrees back in our face compared to yesterday,” Cantlay said. “Some of the par-5s are gettable and then a hole like (par-5) 14 is a lot more difficult. I think the golf course is so good there’s not a particular wins where the golf course is worse or better.

The only problem for Cantlay came when he splashed his tee shot on the par-4 15th. A drop and pitch from 35 yards to eight feet allowed him to save par.

“Gave me some nice momentum to close out the round,” Cantlay said.

Finau did most of his birdie work on the front nine, with four birds there and only a pair on the inward half. Hitting all but two fairways was the key.

“I think it’s a great driving golf course,” Finau said. “It looks pretty good to me off the tee and I’m a very visual player, very creative player. I think that plays a big part of the story.

“The rough is long enough you’ve got to hit it in the fairway.”

There is rough on No. 3, not that the leaders have seen much of it. 

It’s a new track record

While Brent Geiberger, son of Al “Mr. 59” Geiberger and the erstwhile coach of Pepperdine’s men’s team, scored 63 in informal play a few years ago, Matsuyama’s 63 surpassed the competitive record on No. 3 by two strokes. Skip Kendall posted a 65 in the second round of the 1999 PGA Championship. It was matched by Tiger Woods and Mike Weir in the third round of the 2006 PGA, and Justin Thomas and Jason Kokrak on Thursday.

Way back in 1930, Harry Cooper scored 7-under 63 on the original 6,200-yard version of No. 3, from which only about five holes survive. It was extensively reworked by Tom Bendelow in 1932 and the record book was reset. Nobody scored better than 67 until after the 1986-87 remodeling that essentially created the No. 3 of today.

Matsuyama said he had no idea a course record was his, even with a par, at the last.

“Honestly, I thought I pushed that putt but somehow it found the bottom of the cup,” he said. 

Around Medinah

Crowds jammed the course on Friday, with perhaps 35,000 on hand. Those in the throng watching Tiger Woods saw him score 1-under 71 for 2-under 142, 10 strokes behind Matsuyama. … The course average of 70.348 was more than a stroke higher than Thursday’s 69.275. Pin positions weren’t measurably more difficult but the wind was higher, averaging 12 mph much of the day and gusting to 22 mph at times. … Even the wind didn’t prevent Rory McIlroy from slapping a 3-wood 284 yards into the wind to the par-5 14th green to set up a two-putt birdie. “It’s 15 degrees (loft) but I can get some pretty good numbers out to it.” .. The upwind par-5 fifth, a 524-yard test, averaged 4.435 strokes, yielding three eagles, 34 birdies, and a solitary bogey by Graeme McDowell. … Joaquin Niemann bounced back from his opening 2-over 74 with a 7-under 65 and is tied for 25th at 5-under 139. … Only six players are over par, a group including Shane Lowry, the British Open champion. He’ll be the first man off the tee on Saturday, at 7:25 a.m.

Tim Cronin



Furyk holds his own with the kids

Writing from Medinah, Illinois

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Jim Furyk is 49 years old and hasn’t won a golf tournament in four years.

Naturally, that means he’s a shot off the lead after the first round of the BMW Championship at Medinah Country Club.

He’s in that garden spot after shooting a 6-under-par 66 at the big west suburban club on a No. 3 Course that measured 7,484 yards and played a thousand yards shorter on a warm and slightly breezy Thursday.

The BMW – the Western Open to old salts and the PGA Tour’s playoff semifinal to everyone else – features only the elite of the circuit. It’s not an all-comers. But Furyk, 39th in the ranking, has played well enough to qualify and on the opening lap, made the most of it.

He’s a stroke behind the course record-tying 7-under 65s of comparative youngsters Justin Thomas (all of 26) and Jason Kokrak (a babe of 34) going into Friday’s second round, and shares third place with Joel Dahmen, Lucas Glover and Brandt Snedeker.

Does Lake Kadijah have a fountain of youth?

“I’ve always liked Medinah,” Furyk said, recalling the PGAs where he finished in ties for eighth and 29th, respectively, but not bringing up the 2012 Ryder Cup, where he lost a critical singles match to Sergio Garcia. “I try and draw from those. This city has been good to me. I always enjoy coming back to Chicago and seeing the fans here.”

Furyk has made Chicago the scene of some of his best triumphs over the years. He won the U.S. Open at Olympia Fields in 2003, the Western Open at Cog Hill in 2005, and fired a 59 at Conway Farms in 2013. Something magical at Medinah would make for a quartet of achievements in the neighborhood.

But 66 on what was supposed to be a difficult course and instead yielded 58 sub-par rounds from a field of 69 – with only Vaughn Taylor and Joaquin Niemann over par – from a 49-year-old?

“I feel if you’re healthy and you have that will and that determination, it can be done,” Furyk said of playing well alongside the kids of the golf world after his bogey-free circuit, which included four birdies, plus an eagle on the par-5 fifth. “A lot of it is what’s your motivation, how hard are you willing to work, and then how healthy you can stay.”

Furyk is back to health after an injury to his left wrist that forced him out of the 2017 BMW at Conway Farms after six holes. That was only the start of it.

“As I was catching a little bit of stride in ’17, I injured my chest,” Furyk said. “That set me back another year. So that’s been a struggle. I guess that’s part of being 47-48-49, but I feel good now.

“I think a lot of it’s getting some confidence back and putting yourself in those situations. I put myself in a good situation at the Players and responded well (finishing second). Put myself in a good position at Colonial where I didn’t maybe respond quite as well (finishing tied for 13th), but I learned from those things.”

Watch him concentrate when he gets to his ball, and it’s evident that both the attention to detail and the fire in the belly is there. He sees a commonality with several who have and had that before they became eligible for the senior circuit, mentioning his contemporary, Phil Mickelson (opening 2-under 70), as well as Ray Floyd, Fred Funk and Kenny Perry as ignorers of the calendar.

“It’s different for everyone,” Furyk said. “I think the guys I mentioned when they were playing well, they had that drive and that want – for different reasons for everyone. Right now I think my motivation is, I had three years off basically where I wasn’t playing good golf, and I want to prove to myself that I can do it again.”

He’s chasing Thomas and Kokrak, who totaled 13 birdies and an eagle between them, with only Kokrak’s card sullied by a bogey. He made a 5 on the par-4 ninth, but he also made 110 feet of putts.

“Is that a new world record for me?” he kidded. “I don’t think it’s a crazy putting contest on this golf course. I think if you can ball-strike at this place, you’re going to be in it.”

Thomas scattered seven birdies across his card, including three straight on Nos. 14-15-16.

“I had the worst warmup I’ve even had in my life this morning,” Thomas said. “I didn’t know how I was going to hit it.”

He parred the first three holes. His tee shot on No. 4 hit a tree in the left rough – the same one he hit in a practice round – and bounded back into the fairway. Thomas took advantage of the member bounce with an approach to two feet and the first of four birdies in the next six holes.

“I’ll take three 4s the rest of the week on that hole,” Thomas quipped.

He hit nine fairways, properly noting their softness made them wider. With light wind, big, bad Medinah was a pussycat.

The only tough days were to the egos of the Taylor and Niemann, the duo in black numbers after a 73 and 74, respectively, on a day when the course averaged 69.275 strokes – the lowest average in Western / BMW history when players haven’t had the ball in their hand – and to the egos of Medinah’s proud membership, who like to see players work for their birdies. Sure, it rained hard for 10 minutes on Tuesday, and players called the course soft, which means balls hit slightly off line are more likely to stay in the fairway than trickle into the rough, but 296 birdies, nearly four per-player?

Then again, when Mickelson can miss the 16th fairway by 10 yards, hit a punch shot under trees and over a hill and still salvage par when a mere mortal would be en route to a triple-bogey, well, no ballpark will hold these guys.

Around Medinah

Only the second round at Conway Farms in 2015 (3.072 strokes under par) and the third round last year at Aronimink (2.841) were deeper in the red than Thursday’s round (2.725). The aforementioned two were played with “lift, clean and place” rules in effect after downpours. Thursday’s round was played with the ball up and thus ranks as the easiest round of proper golf. … Galleries were on the course early and in numbers, with fans clambering to get into seating 20 minutes before the first group came through on some holes. WGA tournament boss Vince Pellegrino estimated it at about 25,000. … A large contingent followed the threesome of Tiger Woods, C.T. Pan and Billy Horschel, who, at least on the 13th tee, took a minute less than forever to select a club, and then moved his tee position after lining up to swing. Pan’s caddie is Jeff Louie, a regular looper at Medinah. … Woods scored 1-under 71 and is tied for 50th. … U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland posted 2-under 70 and is among those tied for 36th. … British Open champion Shane Lowry opened with level par 72 and is in the gaggle for 59th. … There’s no cut after Friday’s second round, so all hands will be on deck for the weekend.

Tim Cronin



Cooke in an Illinois Open cakewalk

Writing from Glenview, Illinois

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

David Cooke is getting married on Saturday.

He was the guest of honor at one reception on Wednesday. The one for the 70th Illinois Open champion.

Cool customer Cooke may be more nervous waiting for bride Claire Corbitt to walk down the aisle at the open-air chapel in the Carolina foothills than he was tooling around The Glen Club in the course of his four-stroke victory over Nick Hardy. Cooke’s final-round 5-under 67 placed him at 13-under 203 for the three-day cruise around The Glen Club and Ridgemoor Country Club, and earned him a tournament-record first prize of $23,768.

That jackpot will take care of the honeymoon and his entry fee into PGA Tour qualifying.

Cooke is the fourth player to win the Illinois Open as an amateur and a professional, joining Rick Ten Broeck, Gary Hallberg and Gary Pinns. He won by five at Royal Melbourne in 2015 with a final-round 63.

“It’s great to win as a pro,” Cooke said. “It makes me feel like I’m heading in the right direction.”

Cooke’s game plan was simple: avoid bogey. He did, and even with just one birdie on the front side – a two-putt bird on the par-5 fifth – his lead was less than three strokes for only a few minutes. Hardy tried to put the pressure on, but even with four birdies in his first six holes he was 6-under to Cooke’s 9-under. His opening 67 at Ridgemoor was a comfortable cushion.

“I knew having a three-shot lead over a couple guys, somebody was going to have to come get me,” Cooke said. “I just wanted to make sure I didn’t come back to them, so I was just playing smart. Most important, I was just trying to stay in play and not make any silly errors.

“The back nine (4-under 32) was good.”

Hardy’s 6-under 66 was the round of the day, getting him to 9-under 207, one less than the target score he envisioned in the morning. It was still worth $13,667.

“David played great this week,” Hardy said. “He got off to a great start at Ridgemoor and never looked back. I stubbed my toe a bit on the first round and had a poor finish yesterday, and that kinda killed me. Even 10-under wasn’t going to sniff it.”

Hardy piled up eight birdies, including a kick-in birdie on the par-3 11th when his 6-iron stopped a foot from the cup, but two bogeys slowed the charge. Like Cooke, he’ll be chasing a Korn Ferry Tour card in the fall.

Mistwood head professional Frank Hohenadel took third with a 69 for 209, earning $8,319. Bryan Baumgarten and Jordan Less tied for low amateur at 6-under 210, joined by Tim “Tee-K” Kelly, who pocketed $5,960. Bloomington’s Brandon Holtz, a runner-up the last two years, was seventh at 5-under 211.

Around the Open

First-round co-leader Chris Boyle closed with a 4-over 76 thanks to a quadruple-bogey 8 on the par-4 16th. He finished tied for 34th at 4-over 220 and won $1,085. … The field averaged 72.70 strokes in the final round. … How far do players hit it today? Cooke stepped up to the back tee on the par-3 17th hole, 217 yards from the cup, and hit a 7-iron pin high.

Tim Cronin