Li Wang came up with so many clutch shots on the back nine it was hard to pinpoint which one was the biggest in Sunday’s final round of the Lilac City Invitational.
So the 26-year-old settled on two birdie putts – an uphill 30-footer on No. 12 and a slippery 12-footer on No. 17 – as the defining moments in the biggest win of his young professional career.
Wang could have easily gone with a perfect drive that set up an easy birdie on the par-5 14th, a nifty par-saving chip on No. 15 or a gorgeous tee shot on the 142-yard 17th.
He needed every one of them – and a quick start with three birdies in the first five holes – to edge first- and second-round leader Brad Marek by one shot in the 54-hole tournament at the Fairways.
“The putts on 12 and 17, I feel like I stole one on 17 because I hit a pretty mediocre pitch, but I knew I didn’t want to be past the hole with how sloped that green is,” said Wang, a Seattle-area pro who played collegiately at Yale. “I was able to make that 30-footer and that was huge for the momentum.
“I had a disappointing bogey on 16, but I backed that up with that tricky putt (for birdie) on 17.”
Wang fired a 5-under 67, one of only six rounds in the 60s as blustery conditions and speedy greens sent scores soaring all three days. He finished at 7-under 209 to earn a $10,000 first-prize check.
“That’s probably my biggest win,” Wang said. “I’ve won a lot of smaller one- or two-day events. I love the course and love that there’s so much local support.”
Marek, who finished second by one stroke for the second straight year, closed with a second consecutive 72 for a $5,000 paycheck. Australian Ryan Gaske shot a tournament-low 64 to take third. Defending champion Jamie Hall was fourth at 1-under 215.
Wang credited girlfriend and caddie Sherril for keeping him in a positive frame of mind throughout the tournament and especially the final round.
“Before the round, I told her to make sure I stayed aggressive because I started the day four strokes behind (Marek),” said Wang, who tied for second in the 2018 Lilac tournament. “I knew Brad is a great player and he wasn’t going to come back to me.”
Wang pulled even with Marek with a birdie on No. 5. On the 184-yard seventh, Marek’s shot grazed the flagstick before coming to rest just off the back fringe. He slipped and fell on the stairs exiting the tee box and spent a minute on the green stretching his right hand and wrist before making a par putt.
Marek, who runs a junior golf academy in Alameda, California, regained the lead with a birdie at No. 8, but dropped behind after a three-putt bogey on No. 13.
Wang pulled off a great chip shot with little room to work with to make par at No. 15, maintaining a one-shot lead as Marek’s birdie putt slid past the right edge of the cup.
After a bogey at 16, Wang responded with a birdie on 17 to take a one-shot lead. Marek barely missed a 25-foot birdie putt on 18 that would have forced a playoff. Wang two-putted from 15 feet for the win.
“It was a hard battle right to the end,” Wang said. “Honestly I thought he made his putt on 18.”
Post Falls High product Joseph Glenn (72-72-74), who plays for Utah Valley after transferring from Idaho, was the low amateur. Lilac City Invitational organizers presented a $5,000 check to Shriners Hospital for Children-Spokane.
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