The 2014 Southern Chapter Match Play Championship appeared all but over.
Then it wasn’t.
After the Stone Canyon Club’s Mike Russell went birdie, birdie, par on the 10th, 11th and 12th holes, he was 4-up with six holes to play on Ventana Canyon’s J. D. Lindberg in the final, Aug. 28 at Russell’s home course.
But Lindberg drained a 35-foot downhill snake for birdie on the 16th, and when Russell’s tee shot on the drivable par-4 17th finished under a bush just to the right of the green, Lindberg’s second consecutive birdie pulled the match all-square with one hole remaining.
“I was doing OK, got 4-up … and then got a little sloppy,” Russell said after the match. “J. D. did what he was supposed to do – jumped all over it, took advantage and got right back in the match.”
“I was just glad to be playing on 18,” Lindberg said of his comeback. “After the 12th I was getting a little worried that we might be done after another hole.”
“Mike was hitting it solid and swinging good all day, so I just got lucky to be in the match.”
So it all came down to the 18th – with Lindberg having clawed his way back – but the difficulty of the course would decide the match.
His driver off the elevated tee didn’t quite turn over like he had hoped – he missed the fairway by about a yard – and the ball wound up in the rocks, forcing an unplayable lie and a drop.
“I was trying to guide it instead of just swinging, so I blocked it into the rocks and had to take the unplayable,” Lindberg said. His third shot ended just off the green, and the chip for par just missed to the right of the cup.
Russell’s iron off the tee found the fairway and a mid-iron onto the green left him with two putts for the win, which he handled with no problem to take home the title.
His stretch to take the lead in the match was highlighted by a brilliant 4-iron from 220 yards to 15 feet on the par-5 10th, and a 25-footer for birdie on the 11th.
“J.D. showed me the line on No. 11 – I didn’t see that much break in it, so I was fortunate to make that birdie,” Russell said.
Lindberg’s 35-footer for birdie on the 16th pulled him back to just one down going into 17.
“I knew I needed it,” he said. “If Mike made his the match was over so I knew I needed to make mine, made sure it got to the hole and it went in.”
Russell’s road to the final was tough – he had to beat Chapter Championship winner Derek Deminsky and runner-up Chris Dompier in his first two matches.
He was thrilled to win the title, his first Southern Chapter Match Play championship.
“It’s a great honor to win this,” Russell said. “I’ve never won it and winning it on my home course makes it extra special.”
Knowing his home course and where to hit it may have played a role in his victory.
“I’m sure it helped a little,” he said.
Both Russell and Lindberg gave kudos to the course, which winds its way through the rocks in the mountainous terrain north of Oro Valley.
“The course was fabulous and in great shape,” Russell said. “Terry Todd and his whole staff do a wonderful job maintaining it year round.”
It’s Lindberg’s favorite course to play in Tucson.
“It’s a gorgeous track,” Lindberg said. “They take really good care of it, I love the layout, and the rocks and Saguaro’s make it really unique.”
Southern Chapter Match Play down to the Wire
By Kevin Duke
Associate Editor – Golf Arizona