WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — After three rounds of play, Friday’s final round at the 100th West Virginia Amateur at The Greenbrier had set up to be a shootout between 35-year-old Philip Reale and 25-year-old Woody Woodward, two players with close calls in the past who were primed for a breakthrough.
Excellent play early from the third member of the final group, Cam Roam, put him squarely in the mix as well.
But while 19-year-old Mason Williams was playing in front of that threesome, he was charging from behind.
Down six shots entering the day, Williams caught fire and rode it in record-breaking fashion, tying a course record with a 6-under-par 64 on the Meadows Course and then surviving a three-player, three-hole, aggregate playoff to claim the Greenbrier Trophy in one of the most dramatic finishes in the history of the event. His six-shot comeback represents the biggest in the history of the State Amateur and it was the first playoff since Anthony Reale defeated Matt Hicks in 2007.
With the win, Williams became the youngest player to win the Amateur since Barney Thompson won at age 17 in 1966. It is also his seventh West Virginia Golf Association championship and fifth different one before the age of 20 to go with three Junior Match Play titles, a Junior Amateur, a Four-Ball title with Ian Patrick and a Two-Person Scramble win this year with Jacob Nickell.
A birdie on the second playoff hole on No. 17 and then a par on the 18th was enough to send the rising Georgia Southern sophomore and former Bridgeport High School standout on his way, and it capped an unforgettable four-player sprint to the finish that will go down in the annals of the State Amateur forever.
“I couldn’t tell you right now, you’ve got to ask me in a week or two,” Williams said of the feeling. “I’m just pumped to be here to be honest. It’s something to tell yourself that you’re one of the best in the state, but to actually prove it, it means something more.”
Did he ever prove it.
Birdies on Nos. 1, 2, 5, 6 and 8 allowed him to make the turn at minus-5 for the day. He’d add two more on No. 11 and No. 13 before a bogey on 14 slowed his momentum. But by then, at 2 under for the tournament, he was in the thick of the race with the three players in the final group.
After Williams stepped off the 16th green with a par, all four were tied at minus-2 with only the closing stretch to go and a huge gallery of spectators in tow.
“On the front nine it was kind of see how many birdies you can make,” Williams said. “But on the back nine when you see you’re tied for the lead through 11, you’ve got to start thinking about some stuff a little bit more. But I thought I handled it well. I made a lot of long par putts down the stretch.”
Roam, who entered the day four back of Reale at 2 over, bogeyed No. 14 to fall one back of the other three, but answered in a big way, stuffing a tee shot on the par-3 15th to 5 feet and rolling in a birdie to rejoin the fracas.
Then he holed out from 30 feet in the fringe on the 16th to go up a shot and had a short putt on 17 for another birdie that would’ve put the trophy in his grasp. That putt narrowly missed, but still, Roam carried a round of 5 under and a one-shot lead onto the 18th tee box needing a par to likely seal the deal.
Roam’s tee shot went just left in the rough and behind a tree limb, leaving him an awkward second shot as Williams was finishing his round to get into the clubhouse at 2 under. Roam’s only option was a draw around the branch, a shot he nearly executed to perfection.
But close wasn’t close enough on Friday as the ball bounded off the back of the green and into thick grass. He couldn’t get up and down from there and made a gut-wrenching double bogey to miss the three-man playoff of Williams, Woodward and Reale after the latter two also parred the last hole.
“Probably the toughest defeat I’ve ever had,” Roam said somberly. “It’s one thing to choke, but this was far from it. I hit two perfect shots. I had 170 with an 8-iron and it went 57 yards over the green. An 8-iron went 227 yards.”
He settled with a round of 3-under 67, Woodward shot 1-under 69 and Reale shot even-par 70, sending three players back to the 16th hole.
After all three parred the first playoff hole, Williams hit an approach to around 10 feet and hit the putt dead center. His 18th was textbook, hitting the fairway, green and then two putting for the title.
With the win, he grabs an invitation into A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier.
“I told Jacob Nickell [Thursday] night at dinner, ‘If you really think about it, you can birdie this hole, that hole, that hole, this hole,’” Williams said when asked if he thought he had a realistic chance coming into Friday. “But then when you actually wake up and have to hit shots, it’s a little bit different. But the short answer? No, I did not.”
Reale, who entered Friday’s fourth and final round as the leader by one stroke, was solid if unspectacular on Friday — and it was nearly enough.
He had the best look of anyone in regulation, as a 20-foot putt for birdie on the 72nd hole slipped fractions of an inch around the edge, sending him to his backside in disbelief.
“Obviously disappointed,” Reale said. “I thought I made the putt on the 72nd hole to win, it just didn’t fall. Still not real sure how it didn’t, but at the same time, Mason played a phenomenal round of golf today. I didn’t do anything bad today, but I didn’t do anything real good either.”
Though coming up just short, Woodward was in a bit better spirits having contended in his first event after regaining his amateur status a week ago. His main downfall on Friday was the putter as he just couldn’t quite come up with enough putts down the stretch to clear the field.
Easing the pain though was his friend Williams taking the crown.
“If you’d give me that feeling again coming down the last night, I’d take it every day of the week,” Woodward said. “There’s a few guys out there you don’t want chasing and Mason Williams is definitely one of those guys. He got hot and that’s what he can do. That’s what we’ve been working at back at home. We play and practice a lot together and to see him grow up and put something together in the final round, it’s pretty awesome.”
Wheeling’s Bryan Myers (plus-4), Milton’s Noah Mullens (plus-5), and Nickell (plus-7) finished fifth, sixth and seventh, respectively. Huntington’s Thomas Frazier and Alum Creek’s Tad Tomblin finished in a tie for eighth at 8 over.
Barboursville’s Steve Fox won the low senior award, finishing at plus-12, and Charles Town’s Christian Boyd was the low junior at plus-11.