E.A. Sports Today

Breakthrough win

[corner-ad id=1]Chandler claims first Calhoun County Tour title as Wigington falters down the stretch

Dalton Chandler (C) shares a relaxing moment with playing competitors Gary Wigington (L) and Jeremy McGatha before starting the back nine in the Fort McClellan Credit Union Pro-Invitational Sunday at Cane Creek GC.

Dalton Chandler (C) shares a relaxing moment with playing competitors Gary Wigington (L) and Jeremy McGatha before starting the back nine in the Fort McClellan Credit Union Pro-Invitational Sunday at Cane Creek GC.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Dalton Chandler has been so close to winning on the Calhoun County Golf Tour this season he could see his reflection in the trophy. He had played in the final group in three of the four tour events this year, but just hadn’t been able to close the deal.

His learning curve for winning spiked Sunday, though, when he tapped in a birdie putt on 18 to complete an improbable comeback and win the amateur division of the Fort McClellan Credit Union Pro-Invitational at Cane Creek Golf Course. It was his first career win on the Calhoun County Golf Tour.

The 19-year-old Jacksonville State student who would like to play college golf somewhere was three shots behind CCGT star Gary Wigington with five holes to play and two back with three to go. Any other time that would’ve been the engraver’s cue to start etching a name onto the trophy, but Wigington uncharacteristically bogeyed four of the last five holes and each of the last three.

But it’s not as if Chandler stood around and waited for the three-time reigning County Player of the Year he admired growing up to hand him the victory. He played the front nine in 3-under-par and shot 2-under 70 in the final round for a two-day total 2-under 142. Wigington shot 76 to finish at 143.

“He doesn’t do that much, but the way these greens are, bogeys are out there,” Chandler said. “I’ve been able to put one good round together just about in every tournament. I’ve shot one red (under-par) number in every tournament, I just couldn’t close it for two. It feels good not to let it slip away for the fourth time.

“It was a very big comeback. He helped me out, but I still had to hit some good shots. I didn’t hit the ball exceptionally well. I just scratched around there and got it done somehow or another.”

Many of the champion’s best shots came around the greens. Chandler got up and down from bunkers three times in the round. In fact, he was 8-for-10 in scrambling situations throughout the day, 13-for-17 for the weekend. After that type showing, he is now leading the Tour in scrambling, converting at a 64-percent clip.

“That’s what won it for me this weekend,” he said.

Wigington laid the blame for it getting away squarely on his putting. Ironically, he spoke just the day before about how well it felt he was playing.

He had a season-high 35 putts and a season-low two birdies Sunday, but there were other parts of his game that let him down at most inopportune times.

“I don’t know how many putts I had, but it must’ve been a million of them,” he said. “I hit the ball pretty good, just putted awful. I putted real good yesterday and felt good starting off today. I don’t know. Got tired at the end, lost focus and made dumb mistakes.”

Wigington’s woes down the stretch were a reprieve of sorts for Chandler, whose biggest wins prior to Sunday were a County High School title and a sub-state medalist. He missed a makeable birdie putt on 11 that would have tied him for the lead, then lost a shot to the lead on each of the next two holes.

Chandler missed the green on 12, but hit just an awful chip that didn’t get halfway to the hole and made bogey. He made one of his greenside bunker par saves on 13, but still lost a shot to the lead when Wigington nearly holed out for 2 from the water’s edge, the ball stopping just short of rolling in.

“(Losing) one is better than two,” he said. “I knew where I stood and if I made that putt (on 11) I’d be tied with him. Making the bogey on the next hole hurt me. After I did that it was like a different mindset; it was in grind mode after that. That was going to be the end if I hadn’t been able to get up and down (on 13).”

It was then the players came across the road from The Hollow that the comeback began.

Both players found trouble off the tee on 14, but Chandler managed to make par to Wigington’s bogey. They both bogeyed 16 and Chandler inched a little closer on 17 when chipped to within inches to save par while Wigington made bogey from just off the back of the green.

Chandler got the opening he needed on 18 when Wigington’s third shot found the bunker and he blasted out long. Chandler, meanwhile, again chipped up tight to the hole. Wigington missed his putt for par and Chandler tapped in for his winning birdie.

“I’ve been close a few times this year,” Chandler said. “I had one good round in each tournament, but it was different out here this week. It was a grind. This was the hardest tournament we’ve played, in my opinion.”

All four events on the Calhoun County Golf Tour this season have produced a different winner. The next event is the Silver Lakes Championship June 27-28.

Chandler also won the net shootout with the other flight winners, dropping an eight-foot par putt on Clay Calkins and Andrew Brooks on the third playoff hole. He lipped out a four-foot putt for the win on No. 2. The other playoff participants were Dan McClellan and Vinny Floyd.

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