FARMINGTON — For James Drew, 38-year-old journeyman golfer from Las Vegas, Sunday's victory at the Siegfried & Jensen Utah Open was especially sweet.
Drew makes a living, or tries to, anyway, traveling around the country, playing in various state opens and mini-tour events — whatever he can get into. This year, he's played well on the National Pro Golf Tour, where he was the 17th-leading money winner with some $32,000 in earnings.
Except he didn't get paid for about half of that amount because the tour folded its tents early last week, still owing players purses from the past three months.
After that shocker, Drew was ready to pack it in for the year.
"I haven't told anyone this, but earlier this week I was trying to figure out how I was going to tell my sponsor while I was driving home tonight, that I was probably going to pack it up for the year," he said as tears came to his eyes. "Now I don't have to."
Drew earned the $20,000 first-place check thanks to a brilliant comeback that included birdies on each of the last three holes at Oakridge Country Club to stun St. George golfer Dusty Fielding, the second-round leader, who had led by four shots with eight holes to play. Drew's three-round total of 197 was two shots better than Fielding.
"This feels great," Drew said. "I've won a few tournaments in my life and this is up there with any of those that I've won. It's the first time I've ever won a state open and that feels kind of good. I can say I'm the best player in the state for a year anyway."
It looked unlikely for Drew when Fielding increased the two-shot lead he held at the start of the day to four, thanks to four birdies on the first six holes. However, at that point he admits he "probably was a little conservative" with a four-shot lead.
Drew eagled the par-5 11th and birdied 12 to pull within one at 17-under par, but he fell back with his only bogey of the day at No. 13.
Fielding hadn't had a bogey all week until No. 14 Sunday when he hit a poor drive into the weeds to the right. That dropped him to 17-under and Drew tied things up with a birdie at No. 16. Then at No. 17, he rolled in an 18-foot uphill putt for birdie to take the lead for the first time all day.
"I hit it where I wanted to at 17 and figured I had an uphill putt, I charged it, and fortunately the hole got in the way," Drew said.
Drew was 18-under, but a few minutes later, Fielding joined him when he birdied 17, barely missing a 45-foot eagle putt. Drew's putt on 18, where he curled in a 25-footer with eight inches of break, turned out to be the winner.
Knowing he needed to birdie to tie, Fielding hit driver at 18 after hitting 2-irons most of the day off the tee and pushed his tee shot terribly to the right. It took him two shots to get to the green and his bogey was good enough to keep him in second place.
For Fielding it was doubly disappointing because he had experienced a similar fate "nine or 10 times before," where he lost a late lead only to finish second. Once at the Nevada Open he was beaten by a final-round 63 and at the New Mexico Open, an opponent "went crazy" on the final nine to overcome a four-shot lead.
This time it was Drew's 64 and back-nine 31 that did in the 29-year-old Richfield native.
"This has happened to me before," Fielding said. "But I was in my control. I was 18 under through nine and all I've got to do is shoot a couple under on the back. I just didn't get it done on the back nine."
Four players, Utahns Tony Finau, Luke Swilor and Zach Johnson, along with former winner J.B. Sneve, all tied for third at 15-under-par 201.
Gipper Finau, who played in the final group, didn't play his best and finished in a tie for 10th at 203, while the other member of the final group, Steve Schneiter, tied for seventh at 204.
Sandy resident Mike Weir got off to a slow start with three bogeys on the front nine, but he picked up five birdies on the final 11 holes to finish with a 70 and a 209 total.
For the second year in a row, BYU golfer Zac Blair was the low amateur. He finished at 206, in a tie for 18th place after shooting a 72 Sunday.