By John Lachmann
INDEPENDENCE, Ky. – When he sank a 45-foot birdie putt on the first hole of the final round after making birdie on four of the final six holes of his previous 18, Scott Scudder felt like it might be his day.
Seventeen holes later, he drained a 10-footer for birdie at 18 to eek out a one-stroke victory at the Northern Kentucky Amateur Championship at the Kenton County Willows Course on Thursday.
“I really had my putter going this week,” Scudder said. “I didn’t miss any putts that I should’ve made and I made a bunch of putts that I shouldn’t have made, probably.”
Not only was it Scudder’s first-ever win in this tournament, he had not even played in the 8-man championship flight the final day previously.
Scudder was tied with Tim Murphy at 2-under entering the final hole, a 554-yard dogleg par 5. By snaking in that decisive putt, it gave him the lowest back nine score of anyone in the flight for either round at 33.
“I figured that I needed a birdie,” said Scudder, who was aware that Murphy was minus-2 at the time. “I was telling myself, just make a birdie, make a birdie, and it happened.”
After Scudder posted his two-round score of 141, he had to wait for Murphy’s group to play the 18th hole. Murphy also knocked his third shot to within 10 feet, but he was unable to make his birdie.
“I kind of had a feeling I needed (to make) that,” Murphy said.
Coincidentally, it was hole 18 that almost prevented Scudder from qualifying for the championship flight. He was 4-over entering the final hole on Monday, and he would have claimed a No. 16 seed out of 32 in that tier had he closed out the round with a par.
But Scudder took an eight to finish with a 7-over 79, dropping him to 29th place.
Scudder bounced back to win his two 18-hole matches easily on Tuesday and Wednesday, 4 & 3 and 7 & 6, respectively.
Murphy, playing on his home course where he has won the course championship six times, had gotten his score as low as 6-under after shooting a 69 on the first 18. He had never played in this event before.
Murphy said he enjoyed the event and will consider playing next year, when the tournament moves to Triple Crown.
That would obviously take Murphy away from the Willows, where he enjoyed a home-course advantage.
“I think it’s a nice advantage to know where you want to hit it, what the greens might do,” Murphy said. “So yeah, I think it (was) an advantage.”
In addition to Murphy, Scudder had to beat out a loaded championship tier field that included two-time defending champion Eric Fuldner and three-time winner Lance Lucas.
“Very strong final eight, all eight of us can play, it’s obvious by the scores,” Lucas said. “I’m surprised the score to win was 3-under – I thought even-par would be good enough to win, but the guys played well.”
Fuldner was playing in the championship flight for the fourth consecutive year, and had finished third, first and first the previous three tournaments. He shot a 74 on the first 18 and was out of the race after going 1-over on his third nine.
Lucas took second in 2011, and he won this event in 1999, 2003 and 2004. He nearly aced the par-3 17th hole to improve to 1-under and it appeared he was going to challenge for a fourth title.
But after falling just short of the green on his second shot at 18, he mishit his chip and three-putted to finish even-par for the tournament.
“I figured I had to finish with two birdies to have a chance,” Lucas said. “Actually I had it in a good spot on 18, I had it right in front of the green about 10 yards short, a pretty simple chip shot and I just hit a poor chip and I had a 40-footer and I knew I had to make it, so I gunned it a little.”
Scudder was even with nine holes to play, and he made a key birdie at the 568-par 5 12th after his second shot found the edge of the green.
“I got on the back nine and I just started letting it fly,” Scudder said. “I was playing loose – I don’t know what happened. Credit my dad for keeping me loose there on the back nine for sure.”
Scudder’s father, Gary, won this event in 1989.
With Murphy’s twosome a hole behind and Lucas’ group finished – and Lucas having the low score in the clubhouse at even-par – Scudder hit his third shot. It was an uphill approach chip at 18 that most of the players were leaving short.
Scudder, who admitted that wedge shots are not his strong suit, had the distance right and the ball stuck 10 feet from the pin.
That just left Scudder 10 feet of the most pressure-packed putt of his golfing career away from a Northern Kentucky Amateur title.
“I think I’ve made one putt under some pressure, but nothing like that,” Scudder said. “I really didn’t have anything going through my mind except the ball going into the bottom of the hole, which is why I think I made it.”
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Scott Scudder 71-70—141
Tim Murphy 69-73—142
Zach Wright 70-74—144
Lance Lucas 71-73—144
Carter Hibbard 73-73—146
Eric Fuldner 73-74—147