***Article Courtesy – Dan McDonald
BROUSSARD – For a few holes early Sunday, it appeared that Julian Etulain might let the second-largest 54-hole lead in Chitimacha Louisiana Open history slip away.
A lipped-out two-foot birdie putt on the first hole and a scrambling 20-foot birdie putt for par on the second showed some nerves, and then the Buenos Aires, Argentina, native had two bad shots and bogeyed the par-three third hole.
“I felt a little nervous,” Etulain said. “I’d never been in that position, leading by five. If you’re one back or leading by one, you have to play really good to win. But when you’re the leader by five, it’s different. You need to be aggressive, but smart.”
It also helps when birdie putts continue to roll in, as they did all week for the Web.com Tour veteran. He made five more birdies on Sunday, giving him 22 for the week, and made three in a row from the 10th through the 12th holes.
That stretch left him with a comfortable five-stroke lead, and he held off a late charge by Oklahoman Taylor Moore to win the $550,000 Web.com Tour event by two shots. His four-under 67 on Sunday over the 7,061-yard par-71 Le Triomphe course left him at 19-under 265, and gave him a measure of redemption after a runner-up finish in the 2016 Louisiana Open.
“When I lost by one two years ago, I didn’t score good because it was so windy,” said Etulain, a former Order of Merit winner on PGA Tour Latinoamerica who missed a 30-foot birdie bid on the 72ndhole in 2016 that would have forced a playoff. “I worked so hard for this moment, and now I can enjoy it.”
Etulain grabbed the lead with an opening-round 62 on Thursday and shared the halfway lead with Moore at 10-under. He then birdied six of his first 12 holes on Saturday on the way to a five-under 66 that gave him the five-stroke advantage over Ben Kohles and Max Homa, both of whom struggled in Sunday’s final round.
Etulain’s final round was very similar to Saturday, with a lone bogey at the third hole and six straight pars to end both rounds. But he had only two birdies on Sunday’s front side and the field had crept to within two strokes, before he birdied the par-four 10th, the par-three 11th and the par-five 12th.
“That was really good,” he said of the streak that all but assured his first tournament win on U.S. soil. “The first nine holes are the easiest part of the course and I was only one-under. That relaxed me some.”
It was later on that Moore made his final charge in what became an eight-under 63, the low round of the day. The two-year Web.com Tour veteran’s runner-up finish was his best ever, and it was three straight birdies on the par-three 16th and the par-four 17th and 18th that made that possible, as well as putting what little pressure Etulain had down the stretch.
“Once I got through 13, I sort of reset my round,” said Moore, who came back from a one-over 72 in Saturday’s third round. “I had five holes left and tried to make as many birdies as I could coming in. I didn’t want to get too crazy and go at everything … they had some tucked pins on the front nine. But I’m definitely going to play aggressive when I’m behind and try to make as many birdies as I can.”
Moore, who finished fifth in the Tour’s last event in Mexico, was playing two groups in front of the winner, and his late run meant that Etulain couldn’t afford to drop any strokes. The 29-year-old had routine pars from the 15th through the 17th, and his second shot to the 18th green landed safely on the fringe. Fittingly, with the way he putted all week – only 114 putts over four rounds – his 55-foot birdie putt stopped three inches from the pin.
Things weren’t that certain at the start, when Etulain rushed his two-foot birdie putt on the first hole and watched it lip out. He was long with his approach on the second and only got his chip to within 20 feet, and then missed the green badly on the third. But after that, his putter heated up.
“It was just the putts,” he said. “The putter was amazing today after the first hole.”
Eight-year pro Justin Lower of Charlotte, N.C., a top-20 finisher in the Louisiana Open in 2016 when Etulain was the runner-up, had a bogey-free seven-under 64 on Sunday to come from seven strokes back and finish in solo third place at 14-under 269. The top three all had their best-ever finish on the Web.com Tour.
“I think I’ve only had one top 10 out here and that was in 2014,” said Lower, who had opened with a 65 on Thursday but missed four makeable birdie putts on Sunday’s final four holes. “I’ve had some struggles in ‘Q school’ so to be here with my best finish, it’s pretty fulfilling, for sure. I would love to have the three-footer on 15 again, but I played really well all week. To have three bogey-free rounds, I’m pretty pleased.”
Michael Johnson of Birmingham, Ala., and former Web.com Tour winner Mark Anderson of Beaufort, S.C., finished tied for fourth at 13-under 271. Adam Svensson of Surrey, British Columbia, winner of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic earlier this season and the second-leading money winner on Tour, was one more stroke back in sixth at 272.
Also finishing sixth was Monday qualifier Daniel Mazziotta of Fort Myers, Fla., who had his third 67 of the week. He was the highest finisher of the six Monday qualifiers who made the cut for the final two rounds.
Mazziotta was also one of four players who qualified for next week’s Savannah Golf Championship, the next stop on the Web.com Tour, from their finish Sunday. The top 25 finishers in each Tour event automatically make the field for the next event.
Four players with Louisiana ties finished in the top 50, led by Shreveporter and former LSU All-American Sam Burns who recorded a fourth straight two-under 69 and finished tied for 20th at eight-under 276. Another ex-LSU standout and a winner this year on the Web.com Tour, Ben Taylor, was one stroke back at 277 after shooting a five-under 66 on Sunday.
Hammond’s Grady Brame, Jr., finished with a one-under 70 and tied for 36th at six-under 278, and Lafayette’s Brian Rowell finished with a three-under 68 and was at five-under 279 to tie for 43rd. Both narrowly missed hitting the top 25 and qualifying for the Savannah tournament, Brame by two strokes and Rowell by three.