By Murray Evans
EDMOND – Chris Worrell finished his playing career at the University of Tulsa this spring and planned to turn pro eventually, perhaps after playing some amateur golf tournaments this coming winter.
On Sunday, part of him wished he wouldn’t have waited. Worrell, from Enid, used a hot front nine to seize control and held on for a three-shot win over a group of six professionals after the final round of the Oklahoma Open at Oak Tree Country Club’s East Course.
Worrell fired a 3-under-67 in the final round to finish at 8-under 202, making him the first amateur to win the Open since Chris Noel in 2002. As he looked at the oversized $10,000 first-prize check he had to forego receiving, Worrell wouldn’t deny having a tinge of regret.
"I would have made a lot of money this weekend, but winning is more important to me," Worrell said. "I’m not too worried about it. I will take a picture next to the check, though – that will be fun." At TU, Worrell had a successful if not spectacular career, twice earning All-Conference USA second-team honors and posting 15 top-20 finishes in four seasons. He never won a college tournament but did finish second in the season-opening GolfWeek Conference Challenge as a senior.
He was among a sizable group of golfers who entered Sunday’s final round at 5-under, four shots behind second-round leader Oscar Stark, a former Oklahoma Christian University standout who was the 2011 NAIA medalist.
Playing three groups ahead of the final threesome of Stark, Norman North High School junior Thomas Johnson and TU junior Matt Mabrey, Worrell recorded birdies on No. 1, No. 2 and No. 5 to move to 8-under. After a bogey on the par-3 No. 6, he bounced back with a birdie on No. 7 to get back to 8-under.
He followed a bogey on No. 9 with another birdie on No. 10 and reached 9-under with a birdie on the par-5 No. 12.
Stark did his best Nick Faldo impersonation on the front nine, starting his round with eight straight pars to stay at 9-under. A birdie on No. 4 put Mabrey at 9-under and Johnson joined them one hole later with a birdie.
But Johnson hit the ball all over the place on No. 6 and recorded a double bogey, while Mabrey bogeyed to fall back to 8-under. Both bogeyed the next hole as well and never really recovered, although Johnson briefly got back to 7-under after No. 13.
Stark three-putted on No. 9 for his first bogey, but remained in the lead at 8-under. But a pair of flubbed chips on No. 11 and No. 12 resulted in bogeys that knocked him out of the lead for good.
"I felt great," said Stark, who posted his best-ever finish as a pro. "I just didn’t really commit to the shots that I was hitting in the first and second rounds. I play my best when I don’t really have doubts before I hit the shot."
Worrell, meanwhile, figured out he must be ahead and did his best to remain calm on the back nine. After five straight pars, he overshot the green on No. 18 – "I had the adrenaline pumping," he said – and settled for a bogey. That worried him at the time, although as he learned later, there really was no need to be concerned, as no one behind him made a serious run.
Only four players posted under-par scores as they battled fast greens, difficult pin placements and just enough of a breeze to make it challenging.
"The first couple of days, they were playable," Worrell said of the greens. "They were still playable today but they were incredibly fast. You really had to play the firmness in all of your shots into the green and whatnot, chips included. You had to be below the hole. That was really the key and make sure you were in the fairway so you could have a little bit of spin on it coming into the green."
Although the $10,000 would have been nice, Worrell consoled himself by looking at names on the Oklahoma Open trophy, which include a trio of major championship winners in Bob Tway, Todd Hamilton and Lucas Glover, as well as well-known tour players like Gil Morgan, Doug Tewell, Willie Wood and Mark Hayes.
"I’ve never been the best with pressure and anxiety," Worrell said. "I really did a good job of controlling myself coming down the stretch. I was four down coming in to today and I needed to start hot and I did. � I made a lot of good putts today. I’m really happy with the number I put up today because (the course) was really playing tough."
Oklahoma Golf Association officials said the six pros who tied for second – Stark; Zechariah Potter of Andover, Kan.; Jason Meece of Ardmore; Coy Breen of San Antonio, Texas; Kevin Kring of Springfield, Mo.; and Justin Bardgett of Chesterfield, Mo. – will split the first- through sixth-place prize money evenly.
Two other amateurs also posted top-10 finishes, as Mabrey and Tyson Reeder were among a group of four players tied for eighth at 206. Johnson was among a group tied for 12th at 207.
Oklahoma Golf Association
August 23-25, 2013
Oak Tree Country Club
Chris Worrell (A), Tulsa, Okla. – 71-64-67–202
Zechariah Potter, Andover, Kan. – 67-71-67–205
Justin Bardgett, Chesterfield, Mo. – 64-70-71–205
Coy Breen, San Antonio, Texas – 68-68-69–205
Kevin Kring, Springfield, Mo. – 67-68-70–205
Oscar Stark, Edmond, Okla. – 67-64-74–205
Jason Meece, Ardmore, Okla. – 70-68-67–205
Dillon Rust, Edmond, Okla. – 69-67-70–206
Tyson Reeder (A), Edmond, Okla. – 68-68-70–206
Matt Mabrey (A), Little Rock, Ark. – 68-64-74–206
Rob Hudson, Brandon, Miss. – 69-67-70–206
Thomas Johnson (A), Norman, Okla. – 62-70-75–207
Cole Howard, Burleson, Texas – 66-69-72–207
Britt Pavelonis, Harrisburg, Ill. – 69-66-74–209
Blake Trimble, Houston, Texas – 68-69-72–209
Jordan Russell, Bryan, Texas – 67-71-71–209
Chris Brown, Garland, Texas – 69-70-70–209
Alex Moon, Dallas, Texas – 72-67-70–209
Clark Dennis, Fort Worth, Texas – 67-67-75–209
Shawn Jasper, Marthasville, Mo. – 71-66-73–210
Chris Parra, Dallas, Texas – 66-71-73–210
Brad Gehl, Carmel, Ind. – 67-68-75–210
Mark Stevens, Beggs, Okla. – 69-69-73–211
Hunter Sparks, Oklahoma City, Okla. – 68-70-73–211
Sam Johnston (A), Edmond, Okla. – 68-67-76–211
Michael Smith, Lafayette, La. – 68-71-72–211
John Kelly, Saint Louis, Mo. – 67-68-76–211
Vilhelm Bogstrand, Edmond, Okla. – 68-68-76–212
Liam Logan, Baton Rouge, La. – 66-71-75–212
Will Griffin, San Antonio , Texas – 69-69-74–212
Scott Kelly, Austin, Texas – 67-71-74–212
Will Hogan, Mckinney, Texas – 67-72-74–213
Travis Woolf, Fort Worth, Texas – 68-70-76–214
Abraham Ancer, Norman , Okla. – 68-68-78–214
Scott Newell (A), Tulsa, Okla. – 67-73-75–215
James Marchesani (A), Oklahoma City , Okla. – 67-73-75–215
Garrett Driver, Humble, Texas – 67-69-79–215
Phillip Bryan, Mustang, Okla. – 73-67-76–216
Eloy Gonzalez (A), Laredo, Texas – 72-68-77–217
Brad Aycock, Durant, Okla. – 73-66-79–218
Scott Watson, Lawton, Okla. – 70-69-81–220