By David Wheeler/NEMS Daily Journal
SALTILLO – Lan Gooch has played in his share of tournaments.
So when birdie holes came and went Sunday without capitalizing on them, the Houston native kept patient.
That patience and experience paid off late as Gooch used a three-hole stretch on the back nine of the Natchez Trace Golf Course to surge into the lead and claim victory in the 27th Butch Lambert Memorial Invitational.
The professional at the Trace, this was Gooch’s fourth victory in the tournament in the last five years.
“I picked up a shot on each of those holes,” said Gooch of a key stretch on Nos. 15-through-17. “Rickey Riley played solid all day, and I think he only hit one bad shot.”
Riley, the first-round leader by two shots after an opening 4-under 68, could only manage a 1-over 73 for a 3-under total. Gooch followed up his opening 1-under 71 with a 3-under 69 to post 4-under for the two days, good enough for a 1-stroke victory.
Beginning the day two strokes back of Riley, Tupelo’s Vince Hodges had some early momentum, but eventually finished third at even par for the two days.
With Gooch, Riley, Hodges and Pontotoc’s Scotty Patterson in the final foursome, that early momentum had Hodges tied for the lead after the first hole. Hodges chipped in for an eagle on the par 5 No. 1, tying Riley at 4-under.
Riley only parred the opening hole. That really helped pull the challengers together as Patterson birdied No. 1 to go 3-under, leaving three golfers within 1 stroke of the lead.
Patterson then bogeyed No. 2, and was inconsistent the rest of the round.
Riley and Hodges stayed tied for the next two holes, including a bogey for both players at the par 4 No. 3. Hodges then grabbed the lead by himself with a birdie on the par 3 No. 4.
But coming in on the front, Hodges fell off the pace with bogeys at Nos. 5 and 7, and a double bogey at No. 8. Meanwhile Riley and Gooch both birdied Nos. 6 and 7, then with a Riley bogey on No. 9, the pair made the turn with Gooch only trailing by one shot.
“I didn’t putt good today, and made a couple of bad swings,” said Riley, from Fulton. “Every time I hit a good shot into the green, it was above the hole, and I couldn’t take a good swing at it from there.”
The pair made four pars in a- row to start the back, before Riley increased his lead with a birdie on the par 5 No. 14. But from that point, Gooch had the edge.
On No. 15, Gooch drove the ball across the hazard and pared, while Riley laid up and bogeyed.
On No. 16, Gooch knocked his approach stiff, within five-feet, and birdied, while Riley was above the hole and only pared.
And on the par 3 No. 17, Gooch two-putted while Riley pushed his drive, missed the green on his pitch, and bogeyed.
Then on the final hole, Gooch putted first, lipping out his birdie attempt. Riley had about a 25-footer to tie, but left the attempt just short of the hole.
“I’ve been at this a long time, and you just have to move on after each hole,” said Gooch, who had disappointing pars on Nos. 10 and 14. “It does feel good to win, and it was a lot of fun playing both days.”
Fulton’s Ken Hogue (74-71-145) tied for fourth overall and won the Super Senior and Net divisions. Tupelo’s Wilson Reeder (79-71-150) won the High School Division.
Defending champion Bo Reed finished at 82-85-167.
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