Evan Harmeling took advantage of some shaky play by Kevin Dougherty down the stretch and then birdied the first hole of a playoff to pick up his first Korn Ferry Tour win Sunday at The Landings Club’s Deer Creek Course.
Trailing by two shots with two holes to play in the Savannah Golf Championship, Harmeling birdied No. 18 to force the sudden-death playoff and repeated by again making a birdie at 18, which was the playoff hole.
After Dougherty bogeyed the par-three No. 17 hole, he still had a one-shot lead going to the final hole. But he had to settle for a par while Harmeling — who turned pro in 2012 and had been knocking around on the mini-tour circuit — made a 10-foot putt for birdie to get even as both players finished in regulation at 21-under par.
Dougherty, who was also looking for his first Korn Ferry victory, had a 10-footer for the outright win but his putt slipped past the hole and his slide continued in the playoff.
Standing on the tee at No. 17 with a two-shot lead, Dougherty had control of the tournament only to have his tee shot miss to the right by 15 yards. Trying to hit a delicate pitch shot out of the gnarly rough, he dumped it into the bunker.
Harmeling had put his ball on the green about 15 feet below the hole and two-putted from there. Dougherty hit a wonderful sand shot to within inches and tapped in, but the lead was now one going to the 593-yard 18th hole.
On the final hole of regulation, both golfers hit excellent tee shots with Dougherty holding about a 20-yard advantage. Harmeling’s second shot hit just in front of the pin and rolled off the left side. With his adrenaline flowing, Dougherty hit a 4-iron over the green before pitching just past the hole.
Electing to putt, Harmeling ran the ball past the hole, leaving both with very make-able birdie putts.
“I’m happy I blew it by the hole,” Harmeling said. “I wanted to put the pressure on him and told myself not to leave it short. I gave it a run and it went in.”
Dougherty is getting married this Saturday and the Dallas resident was scheduled to fly out of Savannah for his native California at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, only to have to change his plans when he found himself playing in the final grouping.
“I hit a beautiful chip shot from behind the green,” Dougherty said. “About halfway to the hole I thought it (putt) was in. I put a good stroke on it.”
On playoff hole, Dougherty hit his drive into a bunker on the right side of the fairway, which kept him from going into the marsh. However, he could only lay up.
Harmeling, meanwhile, was in nearly the same spot as he was in regulation and he hit nearly the identical second shot.
His 278-yard 3-wood hit just in front of the pin. But instead of again running off the side, the ball stopped on a sprinkler head and left him with a 10-footer after getting a drop.
“That 3-wood was sweet,” Harmeling said. “This is why you play golf, why you put in the time and hard work.”
20th time the charm
The Boston native won in his 20th start on the Korn Ferry Tour, with a previous best a tie for 14th at an event in Portland.
The 32-year-old Princeton University graduate started the day with a one-shot lead over Dougherty, but neither could break away in the early going.
While Harmeling opened with six straight pars, Dougherty bogeyed his fourth hole and found himself in fourth place at 16-under.
However, the former Oklahoma State golfer righted the ship when he reeled off birdies on Nos. 7, 8 and 9. The two made the turn even.
“I bled a little and then I finished strong,” Hameling said. “It was just a grind. … I had to keep my head down and keep going.
“When I fell behind, I was reeling, but I was still on my back feet. I knew coming down the stretch if I played the way I could, I could do it.”
Dougherty took the lead for the first time on the day when he birdied No. 11 and when Harmeling followed with a bogey on No. 12. It stayed that way until No. 17 when Dougherty started leaking oil.
The win was worth $108,000 to Harmeling, who previously had won $40,859 this year and entered the tournament ranked 114th on the points list. The win, with 500 points, jumped him to 32nd place.
Dougherty jumped from 134th to 59th place. The top 75 retain their Korn Ferry status next season.
While Dougherty, 29, was disappointed with the loss, he gave credit to Harmeling and put it all in perspective when he talked about his upcoming wedding.
“I haven’t seen my fiancée in two months,” Dougherty said. “I’m looking forward to getting home.
“There’s always going to be a golf tournament, but you only get married once.”
George Cunningham, Austen Truslow, Brett Coletta, Chad Ramey and Eric Cole, who was in the final grouping, all shared third place at 19-under.
Former Armstrong State University Division II All-American Shad Tuten closed with a 3-under 69 and finished 22nd at 14-under par, which automatically qualified him for next week’s tournament in Orlando, Florida. He moved up three spots from 74th to 71st place.