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Pope, McGuire take different paths to Willow Springs repeat

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Will Pope repeated without an excess of drama.

But just the opposite was the case for Sue McGuire in defending her 2016 championship.

Likewise for Jerry Barnes in prevailing for the second time in three years.

In fact, Pope turned in a scorching performance in seizing his fifth Men’s Championship in the annual Willow Springs Country Club championships recently.

Pope notched 13 birdies in firing rounds of 66-67 for a 9-under-par 133 total and an eight-shot victory.

Trey Baker stayed with Pope the final round but could not overcome the seven-shot deficit he faced entering the final round and settled for his first runner-up finish at 73-68—141. Former champion Troy Haynes placed third at 71-71—142.

In the Women’s Championship, McGuire and challenger Susan Baker never played in the same group until the playoff, which McGuire won on the first hole with a par. Ironically, McGuire and Baker carded identical scores of 85-83—168 the two regulation rounds.

Debbie Keely, who owns several Willow Springs women’s titles, wound up third at 92-89—181.

The 64-year-old Barnes reigns as the Men’s Seniors (ages 55-64) king for the second time in three years with an unthinkable, stuff-dreams-are-made-of finish.

Barnes trailed 2016 winner Bo Corn by four shots when he birdied each of the last four layouts to force a playoff, which he ended on the first hole with a two-putt for par to seal his third championship.

Also repeating was Tommy Vick in the Legends (ages 70-up) division with another strong showing of 72-67—139, 3-under-par.

Billy Ballard posted a 71-79—150 to capture his first Super Seniors (ages 65-69) crown.

Improving Lois Edwards was unopposed in Women’s Super Seniors and came in with rounds of 102-100—202.

POPE’S FIRST START

After 3 holes of each round, Pope stood 2-under. He birdied Nos. 1 and 2 the first round and eagled the par-5, No. 3 layout the final round. Despite a torrid 9-under for 36 holes, the 37-year-old Pope fell a shot shy of matching last year’s 36-hole total. He’s now 19-under in his last two Willow Springs club championships.

“I got off to a fast start both days,” reviewed Pope, who won his first Willow Springs title 20 years ago. “Once you get into a positive frame of mind ... I got confidence from the fast start. That’s what helped me. But my short game was really, really good.”

Pope emphasized getting off to a fast start was crucial because players like Haynes are capable of wreaking havoc if they hang around.

“Up five shots (after the opening round) was nice,” Pope noted, “but I’ve seen five shots go away in a hurry.

In addition to the eagle, Pope birdied Nos., 6, 8, 12, 14, 15 and 18 the final round. He carded seven birdies in the opening round.

The repeat champion pointed out he continues to play intermittently but is in position to practice more frequently.

“I still love the game and I am just as competitive as I ever was,” he declared. “This one is just as special as all of them. I was very pleased to play as well as I did, considering no more than I play.”

Pope also fulfilled an obligation, securing a parking place for his father for 2018.

KIND OF WEIRD

“Kind of weird,” McGuire described not playing in the same group with Baker either round. “Neither one of us knew what the other was shooting. But we had the same score both days. I think it calmed us both down and we played our games. Either one of us could have gotten it.”

McGuire, who found herself in a white-knuckle battle for the fourth straight year, fashioned nines of 46-39 the opening round and 40-43 the second. She overcame a rocky stretch at Nos. 13-15 and just knows she got into the playoff after parring Nos. 17 and 18.

“Sunday, I was very calm and pretty consistent,” McGuire reported.

She admitted she was less calm when she and Baker finally went head-to-head in the playoff, but noted the two often play golf together during the week.

“We were both tired and wanted to finish,” McGuire said. “This is my second year winning it, and it’s getting closer (to being the most memorable).”

Baker lost by two shots in 2016.

FINISHED ON FIRE

In Seniors, Barnes and Corn shared the lead with opening 72s. Each shot 38 the front nine of the final day.

But Corn birdied No. 12 and, suddenly, Barnes found himself four strokes of the top pace as the result of a double bogey at No. 13 and a bogey at No. 14.

But a chip-in for birdie on No. 15 launched the staggering rally.

“I have never birdied four holes in a row, and to birdie those holes,” Barnes noted. “Bo was so steady and I knew I had my hands full. I wasn’t playing that badly; I was hitting it good enough to hang around. But it was looking kind of dim.

“The chip-in put me on fire. I took off.”

Thus, parring the last four holes was not good enough for Corn. Barnes sank a 12-foot birdie putt on No. 16, a 10-footer on No. 17 and tapped in for birdie on the par-3, No. 18 layout.

“I can’t explain it,” Corn reacted. “I just didn’t make a birdie the last four holes. “He did what he had to do. I had opportunities but couldn’t take advantage of them.”

Barnes, who had four birdies the opening round, hailed the accomplishment, his third Willow Springs Seniors title, the tournament highlight of his lengthy career.

“It’s not like Bo lost it,” Barnes emphasized. “This was one time I managed to go in there and take it. I arose to the occasion; I really won it.”

Bert Ferrell finished third at 74-74—148, followed by Billy Clark at 75-74—149.

VICK, BALLARD WIN

In Legends, Vick added to his list of Super Seniors and Legends championships with a 4-under final round. His 139 total left him seven shots ahead of Billy Davis, who managed a 71-75—146.

After a title run in Super Seniors, Vick possesses the championship in both Legends tests. He reversed his score from 2016, when he shot 67-72.

In Super Seniors, Ballard, en route to his first Willow Springs title, forged a commanding eight-shot lead with his opening 71. Behind Ballard’s 150 were Ken Driver at 80-79—159 and Bobby Boyette at 79-84—163. Ballard finished the Seniors runner-up in 2016.

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