Originally created 08/12/02

Victory sets up faceoff in finale



GRANITEVILLE - In a month's time, Chip Whitaker has gone from a rank-and-file Regions Cup golfer to a serious contender for player of the year honors.

On Sunday, Whitaker won for the second time in his last three starts, taking the Orville White Cup at Midland Valley Country Club.

A month ago, the 33-year-old Whitaker won the Augusta City Amateur for his first career victory.

"Before I won the city amateur, I didn't think I could play with these guys," Whitaker said. "Now, I know I can."

Whitaker was tied for Saturday's first-round lead after a 3-under-par 68, then closed with a 73 to win by one shot over Scott Brown and Rusty Flanders.

Brown led Whitaker by one shot with two holes to play before fading to a 74. Flanders, one of Midland Valley's co-owners, closed with a 71.

Whitaker has picked the right time to get hot - the season is nearing its end and the top players are struggling. Whitaker earned 75 points for the victory and moved into third place on the points list, just 28 behind leader Randy Sapp.

Sapp, who tied for 14th at Midland Valley, has 198 points, followed by Jay Blackburn (181), Whitaker (170), Lance Jones (146), Chris Kuhlke (145) and Jeff Pope (144).

The player with the most points following this weekend's season-ending W.M. Gregory Classic at North Augusta Country Club will be player of the year.

"It's a possibility," Whitaker said. "I had to win this one first to have a chance. We'll see what happens next."

Whitaker, a Richmond County Sheriff's deputy, relied on his short game to win. He hit only eight greens in regulation, but needed just 29 putts.

"I hit the ball everywhere, but I putted extremely well," Whitaker said. "If I had a putt inside 10 feet, I usually made it. When you make a few, you get on a roll and get some confidence."

One of Whitaker's best iron shots came on the par-4 14th hole. Trailing Brown by two shots, Whitaker hit a 9-iron from 150 yards within 2 feet of the hole "That was probably the only iron shot that went where I wanted it to go," Whitaker said.

Whitaker made his putt, while Brown bogeyed the hole after hitting his drive in the right rough. Brown regained a one-shot lead on No. 16 with a birdie on the par-5 before limping home.

Brown left a shot in a greenside bunker on No. 17 and took double bogey. A bogey by Whitaker left the two tied again.

On the final hole, both players had lengthy birdie putts. Whitaker nearly holed his from 45 feet and tapped in for par.

"That might have put a little pressure on him," Whitaker said.

Brown missed from 50 feet, then couldn't make a 6-footer for par and Whitaker had his second win in a month.

"I think I gave it away," Brown said. "I think I should have finished bogey-bogey or bogey-par."

In his first appearance in the senior division, former Regions Cup regular Jimmy Hamilton took the title, closing with a 2-under-par 70 for a 3-under-par 141 total.

The 52-year-old Hamilton won the division, which played a par-72 course, by a shot over Tony Kearns and Charlie Busbee. Kearns had 72 Sunday and Busbee 73.

Regions Cup senior points leader Chuck Withers shot 71-73-144 to tie for fifth and earn 10 points. He has a 43-point lead over Charles Hartline. The seniors have two tournaments left.

Reach David Westin at (706) 724-0851