Sam Saunders Goes 24-Under to Capture Championship
By Jon Rizzi
Sam Saunders wasn’t going to let Love conquer him again.
A year after he shot a course-record 60 in the final round of the 54th CoBank Colorado Open—only to lose in a playoff for the championship with “Dru” Love—the 27-year-old golfer from Albuquerque found himself battling another Love in the final round of this year’s championship: 36-year-old former University of Denver star James Love.
Heading into the final round, Saunders sat atop the leaderboard after shooting a blistering 22-under par, three strokes better than the 54-hole scoring record he’d set last year. Right behind him were Utahan Patrick Fishburn and Love. By the time the three had reached the fifth tee, Fishburn had tied Saunders, and Love’s four birdies had drawn him to within one shot of the lead.
Saunders, however, would never relinquish the lead. Both Love and Fishburn bogeyed the par-3 fifth, while Saunders started a string of eight consecutive pars. His birdie and Fishburn’s bogey on the par-3 13th put three shots between the two players, which would grow to four after Fishburn bogeyed the 379-yard 16th.
That margin remained, as Saunders poured in par putt after par putt to card a tournament-record 24-under par 264. Love pulled even with Fishburn for second place at 20-under.
The historic performance earned Saunders $100,000. He only bogeyed two of 72 holes, and twice eagled the par-5 13th. Chandler Blanchet of Florida also had two eagles—on back-to-back par-4s (holes six and seven) on Sunday.
Ott and Other News
Low amateur honors went to A.J. Ott, who beat his Colorado State University teammate Davis Bryant by a stroke. Ott shot 11-under, as Bryant missed a 10-foot birdie putt on 18 to tie. Only two amateurs, Gary Longfellow (1974) and Brian Guetz (’94), have ever won the outright tournament.
This year’s CoBank Colorado Open also featured the kin of some national names: Lexi Thompson’s brother, Curtis Thompson tied for 15th; Eric Hallberg, the son of PGA Tour winner Gary Hallberg, finished T-31; Osten Waite, whose father is PGA TOUR winner Grant Waite, tied for 36th; Jennifer Kupcho’s older brother, Steven Kupcho, tied for 42nd; and Sam Triplett, the son of PGA Tour winner Kirk Triplett, tied for 51st.
Former champions Zahkai Brown (2013) and Neil Johnson (2016) both tied for 12th at 14-under. That left them 10 shots behind Saunders, whose Sunday score was that many shots higher than the record-setting 60 he carded in last year’s final round.
But Saunders will happily give those 10 strokes in exchange for the extra $80,000 he made for not falling to Love again.
Also…Before the post-round trophy presentations, the Colorado Open Golf Foundation presented its Robert Kirchner Award to ColoradoGolf.org reporter Gary Baines, who has covered the last 35 editions of the Colorado Open, initially for the Boulder Daily Camera and now for the Colorado Golf Association. The award, named for the founder of the Colorado Open, rewards “an individual for having contributed greatly to amateur golf, professional golf, and/or tournament golf in the State of Colorado.”
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