Beyond winning a tournament he sought to get since he started playing in the seventh grade, it was everything associated with playing with the leader and being in the hunt on the last day that made it so enjoyable.
Waugh won medalist honors in dramatic fashion, coming from six shots down on the front nine and two back with two to play, to chase down overnight leader Cole McNeal of Alexandria and beat him with a par on the first playoff hole at Pine Hill Country Club.
Both players shot 2-over-par 146 in regulation — Waugh with a 73 Saturday, McNeal with a 76 — and finished two shots ahead of Dalton Chandler of Alexandria. Dustin Travis of White Plains was fourth.
Behind Waugh’s win, Oxford ran away with the team title. The Yellow Jackets posted four rounds in the 70s for the second day in a row, shot 308 in the round, 612 in the tournament and won by 24 shots over McNeal’s Valley Cubs.
“I had a lot of fun,” Waugh said. “Most fun I’ve had on the golf course in a long time, coming down the stretch, being so close, coming from so far back.
“It was fun being with Cole, playing in the same group. We’ve been joking around since the season started about who was going to win county, talking about it back and forth, we’ll see who’s the best golfer at county and all that. That’s what made it really fun.”
The emotion was much different for McNeal. The hard-swinging left-hander led by six shots after six holes, four after 11 and two heading to 17, but the sophomore’s hard-swinging ways proved his undoing.
Wildly off-line drives cost him three double bogeys and eight total strokes over his last eight holes, including the playoff stop.
“I’m just going to leave and drive around all day,” McNeal said. “Just drive around all day until I get tired of it, until (the hurt) goes away. It’s tough.”
McNeal birdied three of his first six holes to extend his overnight lead to six shots, but things started unraveling for the leader at 12.
Poor drives produced lost balls and double bogeys on 12 and 13. Waugh missed a chance to gain ground at 12 when he also double bogeyed the hole — missing a one-foot bogey putt — but picked up three strokes at 13 when he hit his second shot tight to set up a birdie while the gallery was helping look for McNeal’s ball.
McNeal’s lead was still two after 16, but he bogeyed both 17 and 18 to force a playoff. Waugh, meanwhile, played his last six holes of regulation in even par.
“I kind of knew it could happen,” Waugh said. “I just wanted to keep playing my game, let him do what he does and wanted everything to fall into place. I didn’t want to get too aggressive and start making big numbers like I did on 12.”
McNeal’s troubles continued in the playoff. His drive found the right-side trees and landed in an adjacent fairway. His punched 6-iron second shot found the water and his fifth shot onto the green rolled past the hole.
Waugh’s 3-wood off the tee landed behind a tree, but after McNeal found the water he scrapped a second 3-wood for a safely played 7-iron short of the water. He hit his third shot short of the green and chipped up to five feet.
“T.K. has been a solid player for us ever since he was in the seventh grade,” Oxford coach Darrell Cline said. “His short game has always been outstanding and I think coming down the stretch chipping and putting sometimes is the difference.
“I think he made some key shots when he had to, but I’m just so proud of the effort. Him being a senior, winning this in his senior year, it’s a special moment for us.”
There was some confusion at the green at the end. Waugh was looking at two putts for the win when McNeal walked over, lifted both players’ coins and extended his hand in concession — as he would in match play. But this was a stroke-play playoff and the hole had to be finished.
It was decided because Waugh’s ball was influenced by an outside agency, he was allowed to replace it as close to his spot as possible and putt. He made it on the first attempt for a winning par.
“I thought it was just like match play; whoever wins the hole, wins,” McNeal said. “I had no chance; he had to two-putt from three feet to win.”
In addition to Waugh’s final-round 73, the Yellow Jackets counted a 77 from Cody Stewart and 79s from Chandler Allen and Cole Abney. They were joined on the 15-man All-County team by teammates Tyler Putnam and Noah Huckeba.
“We tell our kids on the last day you’re paired with the people you’re having to compete against, just beat the guy in your group,” Cline said. “We felt coming in today if two of the four guys could win and the other two could stay close, you’re just not going to be able to make up that difference.”
The rest of the All-County team included McNeal, Chandler, Travis, Jacksonville’s John Michael Herndon, Drennan Beam and Drew Meehan, Haden Downey of Piedmont, Jake Peoples of Sacred Heart and Jayden Leatherwood of Saks.
Al Muskewitz covers golf for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.