Prior to Thursday’s final round of the Pacific Northwest PGA Professional Championship, Ryan Benzel figured a 67 coupled with his two-shot lead would probably be good enough for a victory.
He figured wrong.
In fact, the former Idaho Vandal barely got into a three-way playoff – which he eventually won – because he made a 7-foot par putt on No. 18 and then watched as Corey Prugh’s 4-foot par putt slid past the right edge of the hole. That bogey dropped Prugh to 14-under in the 54-hole event, tied with Benzel and Jason Pitt, who carded an 8-under 64 in the second-to-last group at Circling Raven.
Benzel and Pitt, the head pro at Chewelah, birdied No. 1, the first playoff hole, while Prugh, an assistant pro at Manito, lipped out a 5-footer. Benzel and Pitt birdied the second playoff hole, the drivable 272-yard par-4 sixth, with clutch putts – Benzel from 11 feet and Pitt from 7.
On the third extra hole, the par-3 seventh, Pitt’s 6-iron found trouble short and right of the green, settling a foot from a tree while Benzel was on the green, 35 feet from the cup. Pitt couldn’t go directly at the pin because of the tree and was still off the green after his first chip. Benzel two-putted and Pitt’s chip shot finished about 2 feet from the cup, giving Benzel a hard-earned victory in the section’s final major of the season and a first-place check for $8,650.
“I would have taken 67 to start the day and made people go out and shooting something (low) to beat me,” said Benzel, who grew up in Ritzville. “And that’s what they did. Corey shoots 65 and Jason 64. The way it shook out, I was lucky to make a 7-footer on 18. I was trying to make a nice putt (from 25 feet) and it just blew up in my hands. Thank goodness I made the next one.”
Pitt turned in 3-under, despite a bogey on No. 9, and lit up the back side with five birdies. He birdied the par-5 17th to reach 14-under. Prugh’s bunker shot with very little green to work with on No. 17 came to rest just 3 feet from the cup and he holed the birdie putt to take a one-shot lead.
But Prugh, who had already locked up the section’s player of the year honors, three-putted the 18th after his approach from 140 yards left him with a tricky 35-footer.
Pitt had few regrets after putting together rounds of 70, 68 and 64.
“That’s my highest finish in a section major by far,” Pitt said. “To tell you the truth, this morning I was so nervous, but I got off to a good start with a birdie on No. 1. It’s the first time I’ve been nervous in a while. I didn’t have nerves at any point the first two days. I’m a competitor and you have to go through it.”
The nerves returned as Pitt stood over a 4-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole.
“I was really nervous, but the one on the second hole the nerves kind of went away because Ryan had already made his putt,” Pitt said.
The top eight finishers qualified for the 46th National Championship at Sunriver Resort next June. Prugh and Jeff Coston previously secured spots in the tournament.