By Jake Winfrey
The Cullman Times
Holding just a one-shot advantage heading into the final day of the sixth annual Yellowhammer Open, Mark Knecht knew he’d have to play a relatively mistake-free round of golf if he wanted to head back to Paducah, Ky., with his first-ever Sunbelt Senior Tour title.
Job well done.
Knecht carded a 2-under 69 on Thursday — his second in three days of play — holding off first-round leader Gary Rusnak and Javier Sanchez by three shots to win the senior-divison (47-55) at Chesley Oaks Golf Course.
He finished the 54-hole tourney at 11-under with a cumulative score of 202.
“It was a final round, and that made it tougher out there for the field,” Knecht said. “Everyone probably played a little more protective, a little more safer. I played pretty decent. Didn’t do anything outstanding, but I made a couple of birdies when I needed to and got to the house.”
His first win didn’t come without a challenge, however, as Rusnak matched the first-year Sunbelt Tour player shot-for-shot through 15 holes.
Unfortunately for Rusnak, back-to-back bogeys on the next two holes gave Knecht all the breathing room he’d need, as he cleaned up a five-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to officially clinch the win.
“Mark played well today,” Rusnak said. “I couldn’t make any putts out there. It’s hard to put pressure on a guy when that happens. He hit shots when he needed to, though. All the credit to him.”
Added Knecht with a smile, “Gary helped me out a little bit there with those two bogeys.”
With the win, Knecht netted a check for $2,200, while runners-up Rusnak and Sanchez (205) took home $1,400 apiece with respective final rounds of 71 and 67.
Like most golfers, Knecht attributed his mid-week success to his productivity on and around the greens.
“This isn’t a long course, but the greens can be its defense if the pins are tough,” he said. “I putted very solid the whole tournament. Chipping was good, too. I made a few birdie putts and got some par saves when I had to have them.”
Tim Conley (70, 206) and Dave Rummells (66, 206) rounded out the top-five, collecting $900 each for their efforts.
Although the senior division got a little crowded on Thursday, the final super-senior (55+) leaderboard was much more of a one-man show.
John Ross put the final touches on his wire-to-wire win, firing a 2-under round of his own to pick up his first win of the season by four strokes over runner-up Danny Edwards (68, 206)
Ross’ tourney total of 202 also earned him a cool $2,200.
“I just didn’t make any mistakes today,” Ross said of his round. “Sixteen pars and two birdies. This course suits my eye I guess.”
The super-senior champ said his goal going into the final round was to shoot “a couple under par” and avoid making mistakes.
“I knew if I could come out and shoot my number, it’d force Danny to have to shoot a 64 just to tie me,” Ross said. “I only made two bogeys the whole tournament and didn’t make any mental errors. At this level, those are the ones that can jump up and bite you.”
Ron Schroeder (69, 208), Greg Odom (72, 210) and Mike Parrish (69, 212) comprised the rest of the top-five individuals.
Chesley Oaks general manager and professional, Cary Craig, said he was quite pleased with how the tournament turned out.
“I thought it went exceptionally well,” he said. “The players seemed to have a good time out there, and the course held up great. We look forward to having them all back next year.”
% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 258 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.