Russell Grove has put himself in position to win late in golf tournaments several times, but hasn’t been able to close the deal.
He closed Sunday in a big way, blistering The Fairways with nine birdies en route to an 8-under-par 64 and a three-stroke victory at the 50th Lilac City Invitational. The 27-year-old assistant pro at Avondale finished the 72-hole event 18-under 270 to earn $5,000 for first place.
Grove’s 64 was the low round of the week by two shots. Manito assistant Corey Prugh took second after shooting a 69 (273). Third-round leader Jason Humphrey (72) and 2012 champion Hank Frame (70) tied for third, five strokes behind Grove.
“The last 5, 6, 7 good tournaments I’ve played in I’ve been in the last group or second-to-last group in Montana, Oregon and Washington,” Grove said. “It was just a matter of time before I put together a good last-day number. I’ve kind of faltered in the last round or so, but as long as you keep putting yourself there you’re going to figure it out eventually.”
Grove figured it out early. He birdied No. 1 from 6 feet and two-putted the par-5 5th to start a run of three straight birdies. He stayed hot on the back nine with a 5-foot birdie putt on 10, two-putt birdies on both par 5s and a tap-in birdie on 15 that moved him to 17-under and the top of the leaderboard.
He made a slippery, downhill 5-footer for birdie on 18, similar to his birdie putt on No. 6.
Grove’s best move might have been taking a long iron out of his bag and going with two putters, including a belly putter he used from close range.
“I think I made every putt inside 5 feet. When you do that you’re going to have a good week,” he said. “I’ve honestly been struggling with my putting, that’s kind of what’s been holding me back. I use the belly putter on all the short putts and I just felt solid. I can put an aggressive stroke on it.”
Grove was playing two groups ahead of Prugh and Humphrey so the trio wasn’t quite sure where everybody stood.
Prugh drained lengthy birdie putts on 8 and 9 to get to 15-under. Humphrey also made the turn at 15-under after a great approach shot to 3 feet on No. 9. Both players bogeyed the short par-4 11th and the par-4 15th.
“I felt in reasonable control, I played good most of the way,” said Prugh, who pocketed $3,000. “Tricky little pins make the short putts kind of tricky and I just didn’t make as many of those as I would have liked to. That was kind of the story of my week.”
Humphrey, from Coos Bay, Ore., was third for the second straight year.
“I had plenty of chances,” he said. “I felt like I could have got it going on 10, 11 and 12. I thought I hit a really good drive on 11 and I guess it went 340 yards into the junk. On 12 I hit a pretty good drive but it went through the fairway and I misread two putts, 5 or 6 footers, on 11 and 12.”
Grove said it was “probably” the best win of his young career.
“It feels good to win a decent tournament with good players that can obviously play,” he said. “It’ll probably give me some confidence.”