To illustrate how sharp Ryan Benzel was at the outset of the final round of the 18th annual Rosauers Open Invitational at sun-drenched Indian Canyon Golf Course, consider the plight of Bob Rannow.
Rannow, who started the day one stroke behind Benzel, birdied three of the first four holes only to watch Benzel’s lead grow to three shots.
Benzel parlayed his blistering start into a runaway six-stroke victory, lapping the field with an 8-under 63 Sunday for a three-day total of 20-under par 193 that equaled the tournament and Pacific Northwest PGA sectional event record set by Scott Johnson at the Rosauers last year.
“I knew there were people behind me that could play well and the key to this course is getting off to a good start,” said Benzel, a Ritzville native who is an assistant pro at Seattle Golf Club. “There’s birdies everywhere out there, but you have to make a couple early, because if you don’t, you’re letting them go by.”
Early on, Benzel grabbed every birdie in sight and added an eagle to boot. The final numbers: In 54 holes, he hit 49 greens in regulation, had one bogey, no three-putts and went wire-to-wire to collect the $11,000 winner’s check.
Rannow birdied 17 and 18 to share second place with amateur Alex Prugh, who fired a 63 to finish at 14-under (199). Prugh’s and Benzel’s 63s were the low rounds of the tournament.
Clarkston High senior Joel Dahmen shot 69 despite a lost ball on No. 7 and tied for fourth place with Tacoma’s Chris Griffin (69) and Corey Prugh (66), Alex’s older brother, at 13-under (200). Jeff Coston, from Blaine, Wash., made a brief charge on the back nine before fading to a seventh-place tie with Ryan Malby (67), Brian Coury (68) and Casey McCoy (67) at 201.
The day and the tournament belonged to Benzel, who led by one shot after the first and second rounds. After Rannow drained a 10-footer for birdie on No. 1, Benzel holed his putt from 7 feet. Rannow, from Florence, Ore., and Griffin had two-putt birdies on the par-5 2nd, but both lost another shot when Benzel dropped an eagle putt from 5 feet.
Benzel’s deadeye approach from 100 yards on No. 3 led to another birdie from close range. On the par-3 4th, Benzel rolled in a 15-footer to go 5-under through four holes. Rannow had previously tapped in for birdie.
“We just got left in the dust, that’s all there is to it,” Griffin said. “Everything he hit was solid and right at it and he was making all his putts. It was just A-1 golf.”
Said Rannow: “I was just wondering if Ryan was going to cool off at some point and he never did obviously. What was great about the way he played is he never really let his foot off the accelerator.”
Benzel also birdied No. 7 and he made the turn in 29, 18-under for the tourney. Two surprises awaited Benzel on the par-5 12th, one of the easiest holes on the 6,255-yard layout. He made his lone bogey and his cell phone rang as he was surveying a chip shot.
“My boss (Seattle G.C. pro Doug Doxsie) probably just wanted to leave me a message,” Benzel said with a sheepish grin. “I must not have turned it off when I got into the car this morning. I’m just glad nobody was hitting a shot.”
Benzel, 26, failed to get up-and-down on 12 and he wasn’t aware that Coston, playing one group ahead, had birdied Nos. 10 and 12 to pull within three shots. Just when it looked like things might tighten up, Coston missed a short par putt on the par-3 13th – the first of three straight bogeys. Minutes later Benzel’s tee shot landed about 12 feet from the cup and he made the putt.
Meanwhile, Alex Prugh, playing six groups in front of Benzel, had surged up the leaderboard with a front-nine 30. He tacked up birdies on 12, 17 and 18 to post 14-under.
“I made a good par from the right trees on the first hole and I made a long putt for eagle on No. 2,” said Prugh, a junior at Washington who played with his dad, Steve, the pro at Manito. “From there, I pretty much had simple wedge shots on every single hole.”
Prugh began the round tied for 17th and ended it tied for second, but he knew catching Benzel would be almost impossible.
“I knew he was playing well,” Prugh said. “I would have had to shoot 50-something.”
Benzel finished strong, though he admitted his birdie on 17 was the result of good fortune. Chipping from the rough, Benzel’s ball zipped past the hole, climbed halfway up a steep ridge and trickled back 3 feet from the cup. As the crowd applauded, Benzel resumed breathing normally.
“Actually I bladed that chip,” said Benzel, who hasn’t decided if he’ll make a run at the PGA Tour qualifying school in October. “I know that everybody thought that (it was intentional).”
Benzel split the fairway on 18, nearly holed his green-side chip and, as he had done throughout the tournament, drained yet another 4-footer for birdie.
“I don’t think I could have hit my irons any better,” Benzel said. “I don’t remember missing one putt (inside 6 feet). I made everything for par. I made everything I hit in close for birdie.”
Sounds like a winning formula.
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