Texarkana, Arkansas- Blissfully unaware of his position after refusing to check the leaderboard due to a double bogey at the 10th, Josh Creel sat three strokes back on the 16th tee box. He finished birdie-eagle-par, and unbeknownst to him, it proved to be enough for the victory, overcoming Trent Whitekiller and Texarkana native Zack Fischer for his third consecutive win on APT.
“I didn’t think 14 stood a chance. I know I asked you and you said I was tied for the lead,” Creel explained to us. It was a reasonable belief, as it took a rollercoaster of events for him to have a chance.
Whitekiller’s Hot Start
The Sallisaw Oklahoma native began the day in a tie for the lead with Fischer at (-13), and was able to expand his lead with a birdie train from the 5th through 7th holes. His birdie at the 6th was one of 14 there the whole tournament, the lowest number of birdies on any given hole. At the end of his run, Whitekiller sat three strokes ahead of the field, with Fischer in second. He missed a 6 footer for birdie, and the 9th hole would be his undoing.
The Door Opens
The 2017 Brownwood champion found the fringe on the undulated 9th green, and his putter betrayed him. Taking 4 shots to get into the cup, Whitekiller gave his lead back in one painful sweep, as Fischer birdied the 8th and parred the 9th. Both players sat at (-14) headed into the back nine. Whitekiller would post a bogey and another double before rallying with a birdie at the 15th, falling away from Fischer.
The Out of Nowhere Noon Clubhouse Leader
Derek Oland teed off at 8:10 AM, an hour and 20 minutes ahead of the lead group. He sat at (-4) for the tournament, a score that would generally warrant no hope of getting back into the picture. Furthermore, he bogeyed his opening hole, 10 strokes behind the leaders before they even teed off.
And that’s when Derek caught on fire. Going a blasphemous 10 under the rest of the way, the Plano native tied the course record of 63, his lowest round in his 4 year APT history. He walked into the clubhouse birdieing 3 of his last 4, fist pumping after dropping a 15 foot left to right slider on the last. It would be a long wait for Oland, as it took seven groups behind him for someone to catch up to him in the clubhouse. He would end up moving 23 spots on the leaderboard on the final round.
Winner of his last two starts, Creel posted two under on his front nine to sit one behind the leaders on the 10th fairway. After posting a double on the dog-leg left par 4, one of three on the tournament there, he stopped checking the score. Three back with 8 holes to go, Creel wouldn’t make up the difference until the final 3 holes.
He took advantage of the reachable par 5 16th with a birdie, and stepped up to the 17th tee.
Fischer took the solo lead with a par at the 12th hole, out grinding Whitekiller. With quality two putts at the 13th and 14th, he was in cruise control on the 15th. A three shot lead, his tee shot was in prime position. He parked a wedge 5 feet behind the flag. The putt was missed.
On the 16th, he drove it right and his punch out was surrounded by local patrons pulling for the Texarkana native. With another wedge in hand, he responded again, this wedge to 6 feet below the cup. And again, his putter failed him, leaving him at (-14) to the short 17th. His last birdie had been 9 holes prior, an issue his competitor in front of him had faced in his victory at the New Hope Oklahoma Championship.
The 291 yard par 4 proved drivable for the field over the course of the week. With a pin parked upper left side of the green, Creel went for a draw into the flag, and over cooked it.
Sitting 10 yards left of the flag, he grabbed his 54 degree wedge from his bag.
Picked his spot. Crisp contact from green side.
Ball rolled left to the right. It tracked the flag.
Creel’s eagle vaulted him to 14 under, right after Fischer missed his birdie look.
The Chance to Answer
Fischer’s tee shot found the right bunker in a clean lie, but he was unable to knock it close. He two putted home for his 9th consecutive par.
Whitekiller’s tee shot found the green, and he got home in three to find himself a stroke behind Fischer with a clutch birdie.
If APT has shown anything in its history, its that settling for pars on the final stretch can be cause for failure.
Creel found the fairway right, and put it to 15 feet. He missed the putt, but casually tapped it in. After shaking his competitor’s hands and asking about the lead, his face turned from jovial to locked back in. He was tied for the lead. The new clubhouse leader, passing up Oland, posted up next to the clubhouse wall overlooking the final scenes of the tournament.
The Final Hole
Fischer missed the fairway to the right for the third consecutive hole, and Whitekiller was in the middle of the fairway. The former three shot leader put it to the fringe just right of the flag, sitting 15 feet from the cup but having to putt over a hill to tie Creel.
The Texarkana native had another native on the bag all week: his father. And the father son dynamic began to turn ugly, with the caddy handing a club to Fischer that he proceed to airmail the green with.
Stuck in thick rough behind the green, and a hill between himself and the green, Fischer slammed his wedge into his bag. Father like son, his caddy did the same with another club. Rattled by the need for an up and down from a tough lie, Fischer chunked out, and his chip rolled partially back down the hill.
Needing to chip in, Fischer popped up his 4th shot just above the hill. Whitekiller was the last bid to force a playoff.
While the 2016 Ark Classic winner did not four putt, his putt missed far and high side. Saturdays remained Creeldays, as Josh Creel secured his third consecutive victory.
Josh Creel looks for an unprecedented fourth consecutive victory on APT in Lufkin, Texas, with the tour heading to Crown Colony Country Club for the Southside Bank Open. He has not yet lost with his current putter in hand. A guaranteed $20,000 first place check is on the line for the field, beginning on Tuesday August 21th.