DANIELS — One of the best moments for Christian Brand on the Web.com Tour is before the tournament even begins.
“I love when they say that on the first tee,” he said in reference to each golfer’s hometown announced right before teeing off. “I’m a very proud West Virginian.’’
The former Capital High School and Marshall standout put his stamp on being one of the top golfers in the state Friday, firing a 6-under-par 66 in the final round of the 81st West Virginia Open to capture his first championship. Play was delayed about 30 minutes because of fog on the par-72 Cobb Course at Glade Springs.
Brand’s name will be etched into the same Joe Taylor Trophy that bears the names of Mountain State golfing icons Sam Snead, a 17-time winner of the Open, and Bill Campbell, the top amateur golfer who won the Open three times.
Brand, who will also pocket $6,000 for his efforts, improved each round of the 54-hole, three-day event, opening with a 70 Wednesday and carding a 68 Thursday before Friday‘s low round of the day. Brand, who has made seven starts on the Web.com Tour, opened the final round with two birdies to set the tone and stayed out of trouble with only one bogey.
“To win the State Open is something I’ve dreamed about for a long time,’’ said Brand, who now has also won an individual state high school championship and the West Virginia Amateur. “I wish it would have been a little sooner, but I’ll take it.”
“People have looked at me however they’ve looked at me. I’ve been waiting. This is my 10th or 11th Open. It is a sense of relief and it feels pretty good. The first time I qualified and played in [the Open I was 14 or 15 years old], that was my first getting to a new level of golf. I just loved it and I said, ‘One day I’m going to win this.’ ’’
Brand definitely earned his first Open title, turning in a three-round total of 12-under 204 for a three-stroke victory over defending and seven-time champion David Bradshaw of Bakerton. Bradshaw, who has now finished runner-up in the Open three times, led several times throughout Friday’s final round before settling for a 3-under 69 and runner up at 9-under 207.
Will Evans, the George Washington graduate and current Marshall player, roared into the lead Thursday with a 66 but couldn’t hang on, finishing with a 2-over 74 Friday, six strokes back at 6-under 210.
Craig Berner, the golf professional at Edgewood Country Club who shared the opening-round lead, took third at 8-under 208. The 2005 champion, who sat out last year’s Open and is also coming back from shoulder surgery, turned in a 1-under 71 in the last round to go with those of 68 and 69 the first two days.
Brand and Bradshaw traded shots all day, with the pair either taking the lead or sharing it seven times.
Bradshaw, who began the final round two shots back, looked to be settling into championship form behind four straight birdies (Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5) to seize a two-stroke advantage over Brand.
Brand surged in front on No. 10 with a birdie to get to 10 under, but Bradshaw, who was playing in a group ahead of Brand, knotted it up momentarily on No. 12 before Brand took the lead for good at 11 under with a birdie on the same hole. Brand extended his advantage to two shots on the 15th hole with a birdie while Bradshaw parred the hole.
“I finally started making some putts on these greens,’’ said Brand, who had three birdies on the back nine. “I kind of knew I had a lead, but I just said, ‘Let’s stay aggressive the whole way.’ That’s the way I’ve been playing it. I just tried to bust a couple of 3-woods right at the flag.’’
Any hopes Bradshaw had of a comeback were dashed when he bogeyed No. 17 to fall three shots back. Bradshaw sizzled early with those four straight birdies, but after his only bogey on No. 7 he notched just one more birdie the rest of the way.
“I just started out good then hit a wall,’’ said Bradshaw, who plays on the PGA Canadian Tour on full exemption. “I thought [the round] was going to be something special, but it wasn’t.’’
Evans was 4 over through the first three holes with a bogey, par and triple bogey. He climbed back within two shots of the lead with four holes to play behind six birdies over the next nine holes but went bogey, bogey and double bogey on Nos. 15-17.
Jonathan Bartlett of Charleston, a State Amateur champion, closed with a 4-under 68 Friday, and Jason Martin, the Wheeling Country Club pro, tied for fifth at 5-under 211. Scott Davis of Hurricane, who was the low senior player in the tournament and shot a 5-under 67 in the last round, tied for seventh along with 2013 State Amateur winner Sam O’Dell of Hurricane and Kenny Hess of Parkersburg, a former Concord player who tied for the first-round lead Wednesday, at 4-under 212.
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4811.