MIDWAY Last Wednesday, one hole into the 110th Utah Men's State Amateur golf tournament, Dan Horner's chances of winning didn't look too promising.
He had to drain a 15-foot putt just to make a triple-bogey seven on his opening hole at Soldier Hollow State Park golf course. But he fought back that day to post a first-round 75, then came back with a second-round 66 just to reach match play. Then, in match play, he won three matches on the final hole two of which came in sudden death.
The last of those nail-biter matches came Sunday, when Horner rolled in a 4-foot par putt on the 38th hole to outlast Cache County's Devin Daniels and win a marathon battle for the most coveted prize in Utah amateur golf.
For Horner, the victory is the stamp of excellence to an outstanding amateur career that blossomed when he moved to Utah from New Jersey seven years ago in September.
"Most people around me know that I can play good golf, but to me you've got to win," said Horner, who's been among the top Player Performance Points rankings for the past few years. "That's what I'm out here for, is to win. ... So this is really huge for me."
The 30-year-old Sandy resident and Willow Creek Country Club member's battle with the 23-year-old Daniels, a senior for the Utah State Aggies, was one that even the Utah Golf Association veterans are calling one for the ages. Combined, the two finalists made 21 birdies and an eagle on the Silver Course in a match that began at 8 a.m. and ended just after 5 p.m.
"I think we both knew that we were both playing good enough that you were going to have to make birdies to win holes. Neither one of us gave the other much of anything," Horner said.
Each golfer had a putt to win the match in regulation, and each had a putt to win in overtime. Eventually, Horner prevailed when Daniels made one of his few mistakes and pulled his drive left into the tall weeds and bushes left of the par-5 No. 2 fairway.
"It was intense, I'll say that," Daniels said. "It was back and forth and back and forth. It was a battle."
After the match finished the morning 18 holes all-square, Horner eventually went 2-up when he rolled in a short birdie on the 29th hole. But he gave one back two holes later with a bogey.
Then when Daniels trickled in an 18-foot birdie from the fringe on No. 14, the 32nd hole, the match was again even.
Horner went back up one when Daniels three-putted the par-3 15th, but Daniels grabbed the hole right back when he slipped in an 8-foot eagle putt on No. 16.
With a brisk wind right in the players' faces on the par-5 18th, both had to rely on their wedge play, which gave Daniels a 15-foot, pin-high birdie putt and Horner a 10-footer slightly uphill. Putting first, Daniels curled his putt below the cup. Horner then left his putt to win inches short.
"I felt so comfortable over that putt and there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to make it. I just didn't hit it," Horner said.
On the first hole of sudden death, both ended up with 6-foot birdie putts on opposite sides of the hole. Being slightly out, Horner's uphill putt slipped past the right edge. Daniels, looking to win the match, watched his slick putt dive left of the cup.
"I can't really complain about the putt on No. 18 or No. 1 (in sudden death) because I hit both exactly where I wanted to. I thought I made them both," Daniels said.
After Daniels hooked his tee shot on the par-5 second, the second extra hole, Horner drove into the left rough. Knowing Daniels was in trouble, Horner tried to chase a 5-iron from 250 yards to the front of the green but hooked it into the long weeds left of the green, opening the door for Daniels to extend the match. But when Horner chipped to 45 feet from the hole and Daniels failed to get up and down from a green-side bunker, all Horner needed to do was finish off his 3-foot par putt for the victory."I feel like I left some shots out there, but Dan probably feels the same. That's just part of golf," Daniels said. "But I didn't complete my goal, so I want to come back next year and play great golf and win this thing."