“Who would think every time we play it comes down to this?” Larry asked.
The stakes couldn’t have been higher over the weekend for the rivals in the senior division at the Jones Creek Classic.
Larry, of Augusta, carried an 11-point lead over Hephzibah’s Samuels in the race for senior division player of the year honors. Samuels was ahead after he opened with 73 in the first round and Larry had 75.
The final round showdown Sunday didn’t disappoint. Larry rallied with 71 and Samuels had another 73, forcing a sudden-death playoff for the tournament title – and player of the year honors.
Larry scrambled for par on the first hole of sudden death – No. 1 on the course. Samuels made bogey after hitting his second shot “a little fat” from a lie in the right rough that he thought was hard, but was actually soft because of overnight rain.
“Wow – it’s absolutely unbelievable for me and Robert to have been so close the entire year and for it to come down to that,” said Larry, who lost a playoff in this tournament two years ago to Paul Moore and is now 2-1 in playoffs. Samuels is 1-3 in playoffs.
For Larry, 55, it was his sixth win in eight starts this season.
“It’s been an absolutely great year,” Larry said. “Some were very close and down to the wire.”
Samuels, 56, won senior division tournaments in 2005 and 2007, but now has 14 second-place finishes – including seven this year in 10 starts – since his last victory. He also finished second in the player of the year race last year by 21 points to Yong Lee, who also won at Jones Creek to deny Samuels.
“This is the toughest one to take,” Samuels said, “because of everything that was at stake. I played good all weekend long. I’m not disappointed in my play.”
He just couldn’t get past Larry, who now has 19 career senior division titles.
Larry and Samuels had talked twice on Saturday night about the final round and wished each other good luck.
“I feel so bad for Robert,” Larry said. “I wish I could beat someone else. I wouldn’t have felt bad if lost the playoff because of all he’s done. It has been tremendous.”
In the final player of the year standings, Larry picked up 75 points for the win and finished with a record 474 points. He was also the player of the year in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
Samuels, who earned 50 points, finished second with 438 points.
There was no such drama in the regular division, where Evans resident Doug Weiss sewed up player of the year honors a month ago. Weiss, who has now won four consecutive regular-division player of the year titles, still played this week, but couldn’t keep up with red-hot Jeff Pope, of North Augusta.
Pope shot 72-69–141 to beat Garland Smith (69 on Sunday) and Michael Phelps (73) by three. Weiss (76) tied for fourth with Bryan Covar (71).
Pope, who won two weeks ago at Midland Valley, played in the three of the final four tournaments this season, finishing tied for seventh in the Augusta City Amateur and then winning the last two. For his final two tournaments, he was 7-under.
“Yeah, this makes me want to play more,” said Pope, who dedicated the victory to his wife, Ginger, who made a rare appearance and followed him during the final round. “The last two tournaments, I played about as good as I can. Hopefully, I’ll get out there more and give Doug a run for player of the year.”
Weiss, who won three times this season, finished with 329 points. Phelps was second with 181. Pope, despite his limited schedule, was third with 168 points.