Whitsett, 'Bama maintain good vibe at Great Waters

Alabama's Cory Whitsett at the 2013 Jones Cup Invitational at Ocean Forest.

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EATONTON, Ga. – As Alabama’s Cory Whitsett approached the 18th green during the final round of the Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters in Las Vegas earlier this month, he needed to get up-and-down from just off the green to secure the outright victory.

He didn’t do it, and instead finished tied for first with three other players before losing in a playoff. Stanford’s Patrick Rodgers was the eventual winner.

Fast forward two weeks to the Linger Longer Invitational at Great Waters Golf Course. After a birdie at the 17th hole on Sunday, Whitsett came to the par-5 18th needing a birdie to win. Again, he was just off the green in two.

This time, however, the Crimson Tide junior hit what he called the “shot of the week.” He chipped to within 2 feet, sank the putt and claimed his fourth career tournament title and third in a row at the Linger Longer.

Whitsett, the first-round leader after a 5-under 67, closed with a 2-under 70 for a 7-under 137 and win by one shot. The event was shortened to 36 holes because of weather problems.

In addition, his effort helped guide Alabama to a third consecutive Linger Longer crown and its third victory in four starts this spring.

The Tide, No. 2 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, easily outdistanced the 14-team field, finishing at 16-under 560 and 16 shots in front of tournament co-host Kennesaw State.

“I’ve worked really hard on my short game this year so I was pretty disappointed when I didn’t get the job done on that last hole in Las Vegas,” Whitsett said. “So it was nice today to have that same situation and this time come through and especially to get the win.”

The tournament was hampered by the weather all weekend. Play was stopped for two hours and 18 minutes in Saturday’s first round because of rain and thunder. This prevented players from finishing their second round because of darkness.

The plan was to finish the second round beginning at 8:30 a.m. Sunday, then continue on with the third and final round.

But more rain and a soaked course forced the start of play to be delayed until 11 a.m., and it was decided the event would be cut to 36 holes.

When the second round was halted due to darkness, Whitsett had just finished his 13th hole, leaving him five to complete. He was even par (with three birdies, a bogey and a double bogey) at the time.

After missing birdie putts inside 10 feet at the 15 and 16th holes, Whitsett hit a three-quarter 6-iron shot at the par-3 17th to 20 feet and made the putt.

At the final hole, he hit driver, then 3-wood from 251 yards, clearing the water hazard and ending up a few feet left off the green, setting up his chip and winning putt.

“It’s really been a chaotic two days, that’s the best way I can put it,” Whitsett said. “But it’s something that happens with the weather this time of year. You just have to understand it, get in the right mindset, not let it bother you and make the best of the situation.

“I feel I did a good job, our whole team in fact, of handling everything, the weather, all the delays,” Whitsett said.

Georgia’s Nicholas Reach and South Florida’s Richard James tied for second, one stroke behind Whitsett. Reach, who also came on strong with birdies at Nos. 16 and 18, had a four-birdie, two-bogey round of 70 to complete his 6-under 138, while James’ closing 68 consisted of five birdies, three bogeys and a hole-in-one.

Alabama, which held a 13-shot lead when play was stopped due to darkness, followed its opening round 7-under 281 with a 9-under 279.

Kennesaw State closed with a 285 for a 576 total and finished one stroke better than Oklahoma State. Georgia Tech was fourth at 3-over 579 while Georgia followed at 562.

For Alabama, it was the fourth victory of the season and the second in a row following a 10-shot win at the Schenkel Invitational. The Tide opened the spring by winning the Puerto Rico Invitational and last fall won its own Jerry Pate Intercollegiate.

“Sometimes it’s good for players to play in conditions like this,” said Alabama coach Jay Seawell. “It really tests the mental toughness of a team. That’s why I’m so proud of the way our guys handled it all.

“Like here, during a season you’re going to run into a lot of distractions,” Seawell said. “But this is something we’ve talked about from the very start, to be ready and be prepared mentally to deal with whatever comes up. They certainly did a good job of that this weekend.”

In addition to Whitsett’s winning 7-under 137 performance, Alabama received solid efforts from Bobby Wyatt (T-5, 141), Justin Thomas and Trey Mullinax (T-10, 143) and Scott Strohmeyer (T-28, 147), who overcame a first-round 79 with a team-low second-round 68.

“I’m not sure why, but we just seem to play good golf when we come here,” Seawell said of the Linger Longer. “Everyone is pretty confident when they come to this tournament. It’s certainly been good to us these last three years.”

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