PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Jim Knoll stood over his ball on the 18th hole at Spyglass Hill, arms crossed, examining his lie that was precariously close to the lip of the fairway bunker.
“I actually thought I had it when he was in the lip of the bunker,” admitted Knoll’s opponent Casey Boyns.
With the final match of the NCGA Senior Match Play at all square, and Boyns sitting pretty 30 yards ahead, Knoll went for an all-or-nothing shot and took a rip at the green. Knoll flushed his 7-iron, and admitted to hearing his ball skim the edge of the rough before soaring unscathed and thumping down on the front of the green.
“I hit it really good,” Knoll said. “That was probably the shot of the day.”
Knoll salvaged his par, and Boyns’ birdie putt from the front of the green peeled off just in front of the cup, sending the match to a 19th hole. Knoll took advantage of the extra life, striping his drive and an approach that covered the flag, before winning his first NCGA Senior Match Play Championship with a conceded birdie.
“I kid myself. I’m 63 now. I don’t think I’m playing as good as I have the past two or three years, and I think that has to do with age,” said Knoll, the four-time defending NCGA Senior Player of the Year who all but wrapped up his fifth straight title with this win. “I didn’t know if I was going to have an opportunity to snag this one. I was so happy that Casey and I were playing today, because there’s not a better person to be playing against than Casey. You are testing yourself against the best, all the time.”
Knoll played the first three holes of the match in 3 over to promptly drop to 2 down, but did not record another bogey his final 16 holes to chase down Boyns, who was gunning for a record third NCGA Senior Amateur Match Play title.
“I was tired, but the adrenaline of playing with Casey kept me going,” Knoll said. “When we were walking down the 19th hole, we were just talking about how great this was, how special it was to be able to do this, and compete evenly.”
On that 19th hole — Spyglass Hill’s No. 10 — Boyns stymied his drive behind the tree that protects the left edge of the fairway, and overcooked the slice he was forced to play. His approach found the downslope of the right greenside bunker, and he splashed out into the rough. His chip shot for par cruelly burned the edge of the hole, and Boyns conceded Knoll’s 10-footer for the win.
“I really wanted to win a third one,” Boyns said. “We were having a good battle.”
Boyns led from the second through 12th holes, but a bogey on No. 13 brought the match back to all square. Boyns continued to fight, scrambling for a par from 100 yards on No. 14 after plunking his second shot in the water, to pull out a halve. Knoll finally took his first lead on No. 15 when he wedged it to 10 feet, while Boyns again found the water.
Boyns still trailed 1 down on No. 17 when he wedged his approach 10 feet above the hole, and Knoll left himself a 6-footer for birdie, straight up the hill. But Boyns deftly curled in his quicker-than-quick putt, and Knoll’s try caught the left edge, bringing the match to all square heading into the final hole.
“I expected him to make it, even though he hadn’t made any all day,” Knoll said. “And I had the easiest putt, and missed.”
While Knoll fell victim to the wild swings of match play momentum on No. 17, he promptly flipped the table on Boyns. But even after his heroic shot on No. 18, Knoll still had to get down in two from nearly 50 feet. Knoll sunk a knee-knocking 5-footer to extent the match.
“I had to make a really difficult putt to keep the match going,” Knoll said. “It was much harder than the one I missed on No. 17.”It was a match where nothing came easy.
View results for Northern California (NCGA) Senior Match Play Championship