English closes in 65 to win Southern Amateur

Georgia's Harris English helped lead the Bulldogs to a third straight NCAA semifinal berth.

Georgia's Harris English helped lead the Bulldogs to a third straight NCAA semifinal berth.

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Throughout the back nine Saturday at Innisbrook Resort & Golf Club, Harris English kept his eye on the weather. With the way he was playing, it probably was the only thing that could catch up to him in the final round of the Southern Amateur.

English closed with the low round of the touranment – a bogey-free 65 – to win by three shots over Georgia Tech’s Richy Werenski (71), Alabama’s Bobby Wyatt (66) and Arizona’s Tarquin MacManus (72). It was quite a turnaround from Friday’s second round, in which English, who finished at 9-under 275, lost two balls, made two front-nine double bogeys and shot 73.

After hitting his tee shot into the front bunker at the par-3 17th, English and the rest of the players were pulled off the course because of dangerous weather in the area. He headed to the clubhouse with a three-shot lead and an unknown lie in the bunker.

“Coming off 15, you could see it looming in the background,” English said. “I didn’t want to stop. I was playing good and was in a good rhythm. Luckily, it was a pretty quick break, and I had as good a lie as I could have hoped for when I got back out there.”

English made his up-and-down and parred the Copperhead Course’s 18th after hitting his tee shot into the right pine straw.

English, a recent Georgia graduate, began the final round three strokes behind leader MacManus, but was within one shot of a five-way tie for the lead when he made the turn. English birdied the 10th (as did MacManus) and grabbed his first share of the lead with a 20-foot birdie at No. 12.

With 275 yards to the hole at the par-5 14th, English began to separate himself from the field, flushing a 3-wood from a flier lie and leaving himself 8 feet for eagle. He would miss the putt high, but tap in for birdie. At the par-3 15th, English made up for the miss, hitting a 7-iron to 4 feet and rolling in a birdie to move two clear of the field.

“That (3-wood at 14) was probably the best shot of the day, maybe the week,” said English, who will turn pro after the amateur season and forgo the exemption his victory earned him into the PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. “I hit it just exactly how I wanted to, and it ended up about where I would have placed it if I could have. I could just cruise in from there.”

For English, a former Southern Junior champion from Thomasville, Ga., it was his first major amateur win and one that will go a long way toward earning him a spot on this year’s Walker Cup team.

“This makes me breathe a little bit easier, but I have to keep playing well,” said English, who was a semifinalist at this month’s U.S. Public Links Championship. “I can’t worry about it too much.”

Wyatt, who just completed his freshman year at Alabama, was the leader in the clubhouse during the delay, posting a final-round, bogey-free 66 to finish at 6 under. But as reports that his good friend English had gotten all the way to 9 under circulated in the clubhouse, Wyatt knew his lead wouldn’t be enough.

“Harris is just too good of a ballstriker,” Wyatt said. “He’s got a beautiful swing, and he always keeps it in front of him. Plus, he hits it a long way, which is a deadly combination.”

Werenski, a sophomore-to-be at Georgia Tech, entered the final round one back of MacManus, but a steady even-par 71 left him three behind Harris. After playing the front nine in 1-over 37, MacManus birdied No. 10, bogeyed No. 11 and made seven consecutive pars to finish the round.

SHORT SHOTS: Playing with a broken right thumb, Alabama’s Hunter Hamrick finished tied for eighth, closing in 73. Hamrick broke the thumb three weeks ago while moving a shelf. . . . Ryan Fox of New Zealand was the last player to hold the lead before English, but he was done in by Innisbrook’s famed “Snake Pit,” finishing double-par-double on Nos. 16-18. UCLA’s Gregor Main, the 2009 Southern Am champion, also had trouble with the finishing stretch, making bogey at his final three holes to finish T-8. Main, who is holding out for a Walker Cup spot, will turn professional after the summer amateur season . . . Blayne Barber, a junior-to-be at Auburn, birdied three of his final five holes to finish fifth. Barber is vying for a spot on this year’s Walker Cup team. . . . Patrick Christovich, 32, was the only mid-amateur to make the cut, finishing T-35. . . . California won the Bobby Jones Trophy, given to the state with the four lowest scores through 36 holes. The counting scores for California came from Main, Anthony Paolucci, Tain Lee and Alex Kang. . . . Lee, the 2010 NCAA Division III champion and player of the year, finished T-8, further validating the Southern Golf Association’s decision to exempt the Divisions II and III players of the year into the event. Last year, the Southern Am was won by Alex Carpenter, the reigning Division II player of the year.

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