Williams holds off Russell for Western Am title

Washington's Chris Williams

Washington's Chris Williams

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. - Last year at North Shore Country Club in nearby Glenview, Chris Williams won the 72-hole, stroke-play portion of the Western Amateur with a record 16-under performance.

But that’s as far as his success would go. He lost in the opening round of match play to then-world No. 1 Patrick Cantlay, 3 and 2.

This year, Williams, a senior at Washington, again captured medalist honors and in the process broke his own tournament record with a 17-under 271 score.

This time around, however, the 2011 U.S. Walker Cup team member went on to take it all the way to the finish line.

In the rain-delayed championship match Saturday afternoon, Williams, a first-team All-American and winner of this year’s Washington State Amateur, edged recent Texas A&M graduate Jordan Russell, 1 up, to capture the 110th Western Amateur at Exmoor Country Club in this Chicago suburb.

Williams dominated the incoming nine holes all week. During the 72-hole stroke-play qualifying, he made 16 birdies and was 14 under on the back nine for the week.

In his first three matches, he won seven holes with birdies on the closing nine. And in the final, he overcame a 2-down deficit at the turn by winning four of the final nine holes.

“I’d have to say this is the biggest win of my career,” Williams said. “This is a great tournament and maybe the toughest test in golf with the format it has. And to look at the list of all the great players who have won this and to know my name will now be among them, it’s awesome.”

Russell grabbed a quick lead with a birdie at No. 1 and went 2 up at the turn with a par at No. 9.

A birdie by Williams at No. 11 and a par at No. 12 brought the match all-square, and another par at No. 14 gave Williams his first lead of the match.

After reaching with their approach shots - Russell in the fairway and Williams in the left rough - at the par-4, 16th hole, play was stopped at 3:55 p.m. CST as thunder, lightning and rain hit the area.

After 102 minutes, the finalists returned to the course, and Williams’ par putt him 2 up with two holes to play.

But Russell was not finished. The 2011 U.S. Amateur semifinalist birdied the 17th to keep the match alive. At the par-4 finishing hole, both players found the fairway off the tee.

Russell put his approach shot 8 feet above the hole, while Williams finished some 25 feet left and above. Williams' first putt came up 2 1/2 feet short. Hoping to send the match to extra holes, Russell hit the cup and the ball lipped out.

After Williams conceded Russell’s par, he not-so-calmly rolled in his putt for the victory.

“I was shaking on that last putt,” Williams said. “My heart was beating a mile a minute. I can’t explain the relief I felt when it went in.”

It was pretty much how Williams felt the entire afternoon.

“It was an intense match,” he said. “Jordan is a great player, and I knew it was going to be a battle and that I was going to have to play very well to beat him. I was nervous all day. In a tournament like this, it’s hard to keep your nerves in check.”

For Russell, from College Station, Texas, it was yet another frustrating finish this summer. He came close to winning the Texas State Amateur, only to finish T-5. A couple of weeks later, he led the Northeast Amateur after each of the first three rounds, leading by two shots going into the final 18 holes.

However, he made bogey at the 72nd hole, which created a playoff with Justin Shin, who birdied the final hole. Shin then won the three-hole, aggregate-score playoff.

And last month, Russell was in the hunt after three rounds at the Porter Cup, but a closing 3-over 73 left him tied for 18th.

“It just wasn’t to be today, just like it’s been pretty much all summer,” Russell said. “But that’s golf. What can you do? I just have to put it behind me and move on.”

Still, Russell said he couldn’t be too disappointed in his Western Amateur week.

“Overall, I’m very pleased with the week,” he said. “Of course I would have liked to win, but I really can’t complain. It was a good match, and I feel I really made him earn (the win). Chris is a very good player and he played great all week, especially today.”

While enjoying the fulfillment of the victory, Williams, who said he took a quick nap and watched some “pretty exciting” Olympic table tennis on TV during the weather break, also put things in perspective.

“Week in and week out, every week is someone’s week,” he said. “This week just happened to be my week.

“I’ve had my struggles this summer, pressing too hard and putting too high expectations on myself,” Williams said. “I’ve worked hard and practiced a lot. Each week only one guy is happy, and fortunately this week it’s me.

“Right now it’s hard to find the words to describe how I feel. All the lows, all the losses, makes winning here that much sweeter. It feels awesome.”

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