Lavenets edges Williams, claims first Classic championship
As Ronnie Williams lined up a 20-foot birdie putt he needed to stay alive in the championship flight final of the 69th Herald-Sun Golf Classic on Sunday, Stephen Lavenets’s mind wandered back four years.
In the 2011 Herald-Sun Classic, a teenaged Lavenets missed a putt that would have delivered him the championship, allowing Jack Garrett to win the title later in their playoff.
With that in mind, Rougemont’s Lavenets wanted Williams to sink the putt, which the two-time champion did.
That meant Lavenets, now a rising senior on East Carolina’s golf team, needed to sink a six-foot putt to win his first Herald-Sun Golf Classic title.
When the ball rolled true and rattled in for birdie, Lavenets punched the air and let out a yell in celebration, basked in overdue joy of a 1-up win four years in the making.
“I kind of wanted my redemption,” Lavenets said. “I knew it was my time to make the putt.”
Williams, having won Herald-Sun championship flight titles in 2010 and 2012, fell just short of his third championship in six years. Both golfers played bogey-free rounds with Lavenets shooting four-under-par and Williams 3-under.
“This is the best round I’ve played all week for sure,” Lavenets said. “I made some big putts.”
Williams, of Creedmoor, was in the gallery that June day back in 2011 when Lavenets missed that putt on the first playoff hole against Garrett. He knew how much Sunday’s win, and the manner in which it came, meant to his younger friend and competitor.
“To stick it in there and make that putt is pretty special,” Williams said.
The largest lead of the day for either golfer arrived after three holes. Williams and Lavenets shot both shot par on the first hole before Lavenets scored birdies on holes two and three to go 2-up.
But Williams, ever the competitor, fired right back with consecutive birdies on holes four and five to pull even again.
After Lavenets birdied No.6, Williams tied the match again with a birdie on No. 7.
They halved No. 8 with pars before Lavenets took the lead again with a birdie on No. 9.
“Who knew nine was going to be the difference?” Williams said later.
It would be but not without some fine shotmaking from both players after the turn as the halved each of the final nine holes.
On No. 11, Williams second shot left him just short of the green. He flubbed a chip shot and the ball rolled only a few feet away, still not near the green. Figuring the hole was lost, he quickly lined up and chipped again. But this time the ball bounced into the hole for an incredible par-saving shot.
“There was no pressure on that shot,” Williams said.
While Lavenets made greens in regulation on holes 12 and 13 and sank par putts, Williams had to scramble to make par on No. 12.
He was short of the green after two shots and his chip shot rolled past the hole. But he sank a six-foot putt to save par and stay close to Lavenets.
Both golfers two-putted on the par-four No. 14 to score pars. On the par-3 15th hole, both players missed the green off the tee but chipped close and sank par putts.
After both hit the green on two shots on No. 16, they two-putted for pars.
The match nearly got away from Williams for good on the par-3 No. 17 when he missed the green to the right with his tee shot. But his chip shot landed within two feet of the hole and he putted in to save par.
Lavenets, meanwhile, sank a six-foot par putt and the difference remained at one hole as they headed to the par-5 No 18.
Lavenets appeared to open the door for Williams when he sliced off the fairway to the right on his tee shot. Williams, meanwhile, hit straight down the fairway and was to the edge of the green in two shots.
But Lavenets struck his second shot well to get back to the fairway and his third shot left his ball six feet from the hole.
“I kind of hit a crazy (tee) shot on 18 but I decided to play smart and I hit it to six feet,” Lavenets said.
Williams needed to sink his long birdie putt or the title would have been lost. He did it to stay alive momentarily.
“That’s all I wanted to do was force him to make that putt,” Williams said.
Then Lavenets calmly sank his six-footer for birdie and began his celebration.
“I knew going in if Stephen plays his A-game I was going to have to play my best to beat him,” Williams said. “I shoot 3-under out here, I’ll take my chances against anybody. He beat me my one hole. That’s match play and it was an awesome match. I wouldn’t take it any other way.”