Winning really does cure all ills.
Still ravaged by the effects of his week-long battle with the flu, Harrell pulled off some clutch shots in the final three holes to shoot a final-round 1-over-par 73 and win the Cider Ridge Invitational by one stroke over reigning county champion Gary Wigington and playing partner Matt Rogers.
For the tournament, Harrell shot 2-over 144, which is what the former Oxford and Jacksonville State player would tell you his fever felt like when it flared around the 13th hole.
“Normally I’m a really energetic type player, but this whole weekend I just told myself just to stay calm, one shot at a time, because I just didn’t feel good,” he said. “I played boring golf. I played a lot safer than I normally would. I laid up on a lot of places I normally wouldn’t.
“I just didn’t really have enough energy to go for anything, but it paid off in the end.”
Harrell was locked in a three-way tie for the lead when the day started and it stayed tight throughout. The drama peaked on the last three holes.
Harrell saved par on 16 after spraying his tee shot into the right woods, punching out between three trees to get in the fairway and then hitting it to 10 feet below the hole from 165 yards. Rogers, meanwhile was safely on in 2 after hitting “the two best shots I could hit” then made par.
“Sixteen was huge,” Harrell said. “Whenever you’re hitting your third shot on a par-4 from 165, it’s normally not a good sign. Making a putt there to save par gave me a whole lot of momentum.”
The turning point came on 17. Rogers hit first and stuck it to about five feet. Harrell followed and nearly made ace. Rogers missed his putt and Harrell made his to assume the lead.
Harrell safely played 3-wood off the tee on No. 18, partly to keep from getting too greedy on his next shot, while Rogers hit his drive into the right woods trying to avoid hitting it left.
“I hit 3-wood so I wouldn’t even have a chance to even think about going for it,” Harrell said. “I knew if I hit a good drive, my mentality is always go for it, so I laid up just so I wouldn’t have the opportunity.”
Rogers pitched out, hit up and reached the green in four strokes, then made a snaky downhill putt for par. Harrell played up and on and needed only to two-putt to win. His 12-foot birdie putt was on a similar line to Wigington’s moments early and he rolled it to about an inch of the cup, leaving just a tap-in for his first outright Calhoun County Golf Tour title.
“I feel like I should have made that putt on 17, but I didn’t,” Rogers said. “He played good. It was pretty special the last three holes he played.”
Wigington played a part in the drama in the group ahead. He missed a four-foot birdie putt on No. 15 that would have tied him for the lead, but he stayed in the fray by saving par from off the green after a duffed chip on the par-3 17th. On No. 18, he pushed his drive into the right rough but recovered from it with a sliding birdie putt to pull into a share of the lead with Harrell and Rogers playing in the group behind.
“On 17, I tried to hit a real cute shot and came up short,” Wigington said. “At worse, try to make par. If I make bogey I figure I won’t a chance.
“Then on the last hole I felt I had to have a birdie to have a chance to even tie and fortunately made it. When you look back, not birding (No. 15), that’s a killer right there.”
The other flight winners in the event were Jeff Champion (Championship B), Ott Chandler (First), Richie Nabors (Second), Clay Coker (Third). Cory Etter shot the best round of the day — 68 — to win the Pro Division.
The next event on the Calhoun County Golf Tour schedule is the King of the Hill at Anniston Municipal April 21-22. Entry fee is $80 per player with unlimited practice rounds (cart fee) with paid entries.
Al Muskewitz covers golf for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.