July 18, 2011
KETTERING, Ohio - Xavier University freshman Korey Ward loves Phil Mickelson. He probably wouldn't have won the Ohio Amateur had he not pulled off a shot that perhaps Lefty wouldn't have even tried.
"I hit it absolutely perfect," said the West Chester native.
A day after almost shooting himself out of the tournament, Ward holed a flop shot on the par-3 eighth hole to begin his comeback and then overtook defending champion Michael Bernard to capture the 105th Ohio Am title.
The second-round leader had rounds of 69-68-75-71 to stand alone at 1-under 283 at NCR Country Club's South Course, one shot ahead of hard-charging Michael Lewis, who had two eagles in a closing 69 that matched the low round.
The event's youngest-ever winner a year ago at age 16, Bernard was in the lead coming into the final round but faltered to a 77 that left him tied for third with Dublin's Michael Cress (76) at 286.
Bernard still led Ward by three strokes when they came to the 172-yard eighth. Ward's iron shot ended up left of the hole, leaving him unable to even see the putting surface and little room to work with out of heavy rough on the 20-yard shot.
"There was a little slope and I had a 3-foot circle where I could land it," he said. He slid his club under the ball and popped it high into the air before it rolled into the cup.
Maybe the only person who wasn't surprised was Bernard, who will be a senior at Wayne High School in Huber Heights and has orally committed to Ohio State next year.
"Honestly, I've played with him and he's done that kind of stuff before so I kind of expected it," Bernard said. "You have to expect the other guy to make great shots."
Ward conceded he needed some luck. But isn't that what mavericks like Mickelson do all the time: Take a swing and hope for the best?
"He's actually my favorite golfer," Ward said. "(He's) risky, aggressive. And he's got a short game.
While both Bernard and Cress were making bogeys, it was the start of something big for Ward.
He parred the ninth and then took the lead for the first time Friday with a somewhat controversial birdie at the par-5 10th hole. His 60-degree wedge third-shot from 51 yards ended up a half-turn out of the hole. When he removed the pin, the ball moved. After consulting with on-course rules officials, he re-placed his ball and tapped in for the birdie.
He bogeyed the 13th and 16th holes, but clinched the win with a birdie at the 17th after Lewis - playing two groups ahead of him - had roared back to pull tie. Lewis actually held the lead all by himself momentarily, before making a bogey - on a lipped-out par putt - on the closing hole to fall a shot back.
"I didn't have any idea out there," he said of the confusion near the top of the leader board. "I just kind of stayed with my game."
Ward then drove into the fairway at 18, hit the green at the par 4 in regulation and took two putts to capture the victory.
After his 75 in the third round, he had said, "I played awful, honestly. I did everything bad." But then he added, "I need to play well tomorrow. I kind of shot myself out of it a little bit. I just didn't play well today; tomorrow I think I'm going to play well."
Ward began the day three shots back of Bernard and two behind Cress, his playing partners, before finally catching up and then pulling ahead.
Bernard failed to become the 10th player to win back-to-back Ohio Am titles.
"Obviously I'm disappointed," he said. "But I wasn't far off from playing very good. I just didn't make any putts. I couldn't have shot a lot higher today. For the way I was hitting the ball, it was about as bad as I could score."
Ward hit a lot of pressure-packed shots in the final 10 holes. But there was no question which swing he'll remember the most.
"I just got my head on straight, I just managed. I took each shot by itself," he said. "But on No. 8 when I flopped it and it went in, that was my shot of the tournament."