AIKEN — Mary Helen McElreath’s seventh consecutive victory in the Abby Montenyohl Championship got the Augustan thinking about her first one – and someone she played with that day.
Thursday’s final round of the 54-hole CSRA Women’s Golf Association event, which is played at a different course each round, was held at the Reserve Club at Woodside Plantation. McElreath shot 2-under-par 70 and won by 22 shots over fellow Gordon Lakes golfer Judy Phillips. McElreath, 59, had opened with 80 at Tara on Monday then had 70 on Tuesday at Pointe South. She finished at 4-over 220.
The Reserve Club is the same course where the final round was played in 2007, when McElreath won her first Montenyohl title. In that final round, McElreath played with three former champions, among them Elaine Montano.
Montano, who won this tournament four times, died in 2011.
“This one is for Elaine,” an emotional McElreath said. “We were members at Goshen. We played team tournaments together, we played several state tournaments. She taught me a lot. She taught me a lot about competing.”
McElreath, who had seven birdies on Thursday, extended her lead for victories in this event, which started in 1962. She had broken the record she had shared with Sandra Moody last year.
She has won every Montenyohl championship she’s played in with the exception of her first start, where she finished second.
McElreath, who had to rally in the final round to win the past two titles, was a wire-to-wire winner this year. She led by four shots after the first round and by eight after the second.
To win by 22 shots “is very surreal,” she said. “After the first round, I thought it would be tougher than this. I’m ecstatic right now.”
She was fighting fatigue during Monday’s first round, a result of a two-week golf trip to Ireland and Scotland in which she played seven times in 10 days. She arrived back home late Saturday and was still dragging Monday, especially on the back nine at Tara, where she shot 42 after a front-nine of 38.
“I felt better Tuesday and today,” she said.
How did she manage to keep making birdies despite carrying an eight-shot lead into the final round?
“You’re going to love this cliché – it’s one shot at a time,” she said. “That’s all I can do. If I do anything beside one at time, I’m in trouble.”
Sandra Freedman, of Augusta Country Club, won the senior division by a shot over Pat Roberts, of Mount Vintage Plantation.