Brian Miller has won a bunch of golf tournaments but it’s been years since he experienced final-round pressure.
Miller was back in the fire Sunday at the 52nd Lilac City Invitational and for 15 holes he made it look like a carefree stroll. However, winning tournaments is rarely easy and Miller had to withstand two late bogeys and back-nine charges by Jesse Schutte and Conner Robbins before securing a one-shot victory at The Fairways.
Miller closed with a 1-under 71 for a four-round total of 21-under 267. Schutte, six shots down with seven holes remaining, shot 69 to share second with Robbins, who had a 67. First-round leader Tyler Falk (74) and Carl Jonson, who carded two 64s on the weekend, tied for fourth at 272.
Manito assistant Corey Prugh (68-273), Kevin PomArleau (72) and Shane Prante (72) tied for sixth.
Miller, 35, stopped playing tournament golf for three years, but he rediscovered his swing and confidence while working with friend and fellow Palm Desert, California-area resident PomArleau. Three tournaments into Miller’s comeback, he found the winner’s circle and collected a $5,000 check.
“I haven’t been in the hunt in four or five years,” said Miller, who did most of the heavy lifting by shooting 65-65-66 over the first three days. “I got a little out of my routine and I was kind of holding on a little bit. I hit it fine, just not quite as good (as previous rounds). I definitely feel like I’m on to something.”
Miller made the turn with a four-stroke lead over Robbins, who was playing one group ahead. When Miller drained a slick, 30-foot downhill putt from the back fringe on No. 11 and collected a two-putt birdie on the par-5 14th, he was 23 under and four shots clear of Schutte.
Robbins’ chances faded when he failed to capitalize on a good drive on No. 14 and his drive on No. 15 sailed out of bounds.
“I kind of changed my mind in the middle of my swing,” said Robbins, who was teammates with Prugh at the University of Washington. “I’d been hitting a low cut shot all week on that hole and I decided to go with a draw at the last second.”
Robbins battled back with a 12-footer for bogey on 15 and the seventh birdie of his round at No. 17. Meanwhile, Schutte’s approach on the 16th flew past the back-right pin and over the green. Despite having little real estate to work with, Schutte chipped in for birdie and Miller’s par putt lipped out.
Miller’s lead was down to two. Schutte tried to apply more pressure but his approach from 85 yards on the 18th drifted short and right of the pin. Miller three-putted for bogey, knowing that was all he needed after Schutte missed a 30-footer for birdie.
“I got so far ahead I started playing conservatively, hitting irons when I would normally hit driver or 3-wood,” Miller said.
Schutte, 27, bogeyed the first two holes. The Oregon native and former University of Oklahoma golfer shot 4-under 32 on the back, including an eagle on No. 14.
“I got too much sleep (Saturday) night,” said Schutte, another Palm Desert resident. “Honestly, my brain was kind of foggy and I couldn’t get a good feeling getting started. If I would have put pressure on (Miller) earlier I think it would have been a little different outcome.”
Scores soared Sunday, thanks to gusty winds and numerous difficult hole locations.
Jim Coleman, of Billings, finished at 4-under 284 to earn low amateur honors.