FITCHBURG, Mass. (June 29, 2011) -- In one the closest battles in recent memory, a handful of professional and amateur competitors hailing from all across the East Coast battled valiantly during the third and final round of the 102nd Massachusetts Open Championship.
In the end and under the magnificent backdrop of Oak Hill Country Club, it was Kyle Gallo (Kensington, CT) who emerged as the victor and can now claim the rights to the Clarence G. Cochrane Memorial Trophy and a winner's check of $15,000.
It took a near flawless performance on day three for Gallo to capture the title. Fueled by a 1-under par 34 back nine on Wednesday, the 36-year-old mini-tour player finished with a three-day total of 5-under par 205 for a one-stroke victory over Michael Ballo (Stamford, CT).
"It is really gratifying the way I handled it down the stretch not knowing what was going on," said Gallo, who chose not to receive updates on the rest of the field during his final nine holes. "I just kept playing and I figured that a good two putt on 18 would do it."
Throughout the 18-hole march to the finale, the leaderboard told the story as the top 10 competitors were within three strokes of each other from start to finish.
It is no surprise that the veteran Gallo decided to focus on his game rather than watch as the scores changed with each passing shot. After making the turn at even par, Gallo carded a birdie on the 456-yard, par 5 10th hole to go 5-under par for the tournament.
As it can do so quickly on this challenging 6,609 layout in Fitchburg, the tide changed as he suffered back-to-back bogies on the 12th and 13th holes. Unbeknownst to Gallo, Ballo was on a tear at that time as he made birdie on the 11th and 12th holes and then went on to drain a 25-foot birdie putt on the 14th hole to take a two-shot lead at 7-under par.
Unfortunately for Ballo, his drive off the 15th tee sailed into the woods and led to a devastating double bogey on the 15th hole and a bogey on the 16th hole. Gallo, meanwhile, righted his ship thanks to two stellar 8-iron approach shots on the 14th and 15th holes to regain the top spot. He went on to make three solid pars to secure his first Massachusetts Open Championship title.
"I didn't get upset because I knew that I still had 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18," said Gallo about that key point in the round. "I knew that I still had five more holes out there to make up shots and make some birdies."
This latest victory - he has also won State Open titles in Vermont, Connecticut and Maine and the 2009 Cape Cod Open - is especially sweet for Gallo because he has been in the process of changing his game in hopes of advancing to the next level. While the "process" was expected to take the better part of the year, he was thrilled to see it come together in June.
"At the beginning of the year I made a commitment that this is what I want to do," explained Gallo who turned pro in 1999 after graduating from Central Connecticut State University. "To see it all come together so quickly is gratifying."
Heading into the final round, Gallo was tied for first with amateur Brian Higgins (Franklin CC), who was looking to become the first amateur since 1999 to win the Massachusetts Open Championship. It didn't start favorably for Higgins as he sent his tee shot on the 1st hole out of bounds and suffered a bogey on that hole and again on the 5th hole. He battled back by making birdie on the 7th and 9th holes, but that would be the end of the birdie run as he posted a 2-over par 37 on the back nine.
"You get nervous when you do that off the first tee, but I felt better after that bogey," said Higgins, whose best finish at this event heading into today was T11. "Down the stretch, a couple of sloppy shots... a 3 iron on 12 and a 4 iron on 18... got to me."
Although disappointed with his play today, he did finish T6 and shared Low Amateur honors with Chris Congdon (Foxborough CC). It marks the second time that Higgins - the 2010 Richard D. Haskell MGA Player of the Year - has earned such an honor and the first time for Congdon, who posted a solid score of even par 70 on Wednesday.
Both players finished with a three-day total of 2-under par 208.
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