Cole Hammer's Azalea win was not stress-free (Live5 News screen shot)
CHARLESTON, SC (March 25, 2018) - Cole Hammer
(Houston, TX) a high school senior who has committed to play at the University of Texas this fall, won the Azalea Invitational in a three-way playoff with Hugo Bernard
(Canada) and Joseph Pagdin
(Orlando, FL) at the Country Club of Charleston.
Hammer appeared to be cruising toward his first major amateur win, building a 5-shot lead through 10 holes, but ran into big trouble on the most famous hole at the CC of Charleston and brought his nearest competitors right back into the tournament.
Hammer started the round with a two shot lead over Bernard, which would have been more if not for a closing double bogey in Saturday's third round. If Hammer was unnerved by a far less comfortable lead, he didn't show it as Sunday's round started.
Related: Hammer Outduels Bernard to Lead Azalea Invitational by 2
For the second straight day, Bernard bogeyed the first hole, putting Hammer ahead by three. Both players matched birdies on the 5th and 7th holes, and then the first big swing of the day occurred on the 405-yard par-4 8th.
Bernard had trouble with the 8th hole all week, playing it 2 over par coming in, and lost two more shots with a double bogey, while Hammer birdied the hole for the second straight round. Suddenly Bernard was six shots back with 10 holes to go.
At that point, it was Pagdin who had climbed into second place. The 16-year-old University of Florida commit started the day four shots behind Hammer, but birdies on 2 and 5 put him at 8 under, five shots back.
Pagdin and Bernard got one shot closer with birdies on the par-5 9th, but Hammer extended the lead to 5 again with a birdie on 10.
The 11th hole at the CC of Charleston
The second big swing of the day came at the CC of Charleston's most notorious hole, the 177-yard 11th. The "reverse redan" hole created by Seth Raynor has long been both exciting and controversial, with an angled tabletop green guarded on each side by bunkers so deep that the Azalea Tournament Committee has employed a volunteer to rake the bunker for the players to ensure good lies.
Many players in the Azalea have played the hole by laying up short left and trying to get up and down. Sam Snead once carded a 13 on the hole and Ben Hogan, when asked how he liked the hole, replied that it should be dynamited.
Hammer must have felt the same after taking 6 shots, making triple bogey, and seeing his lead cut from five shots to two.
Energized by his sudden opportunity, Pagdin cut the lead to one with a birdie on the short par-4 12th. Hammer birdied the next hole to go back up two over Pagdin, with Bernard now four back with five holes to go.
Bernard started his comeback with back-to-back birdies on 14 and 15, and when Pagdin birdied the 15th to go 5 under for the round, Hammer's lead was back to one with Bernard two back. Bernard then birdied the short par-3 17th, giving Hammer a one-shot lead over his two chasers on the 18th tee.
Hammer played his tee shot safely short of the fairway bunker, but pulled his uphill approach shot into the left bunker, leaving a tricky shot to the elevated green with the green running away from him. His bunker shot was a little hot, and he was unable to make his par putt for the win. Bernard and Pagdin both made par, and the three went to the 1st tee to play off for the championship.
All three players finished at 11-under 273, with Hammer closing with a 1-under 70, Bernard a 68 and Pagdin a bogey-free 66, the low round of the day.
It's worth noting again that with 8 holes to play, Hammer had a five-shot lead over Pagdin and six over Bernard. But Hammer would should show his resilience in the playoff.
After finding the fairway with his tee shot, Hammer stuffed his second shot to within 2 feet of the hole, and when Pagdin and Bernard could do no better than par, Hammer rolled in his short putt and won the title that he so nearly had thrown away.
For Pagdin, it was his second straight runner-up finish in the Azalea, having shared 2nd place with Hammer last year, one shot behind the winner Chris Petefish
(Lexington, SC) shot a final-round 67 to finish solo fourth at 7-under, four shots back. Canadian Joey Savoie
(70) was fifth a 6 under.
The low mid-amateur was Patrick Christovich
(New Orleans, LA), who shot a 71 to finish solo sixth at 5 under.
Reigning U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Matt Parziale
(Brockton, MA) closed with a 71 to finish tied 17th at 3-over 287 in his final tuneup for the Masters in two weeks time.
2015 Azalea champion Todd White
(Spartanburg, SC) shot a 74 to finish tied for 23rd at 6 over par.
Four-time Senior Azalea champion Brady Exber
(Las Vegas, NV) shot 73 to finish tied for 35th at 10-over 294.