Guess we underestimated things once again. Kemper Lakes played more than 7,200 yards long and barely gave up an inch. Check that, the rough was about an inch or two shorter than tournament organizers would have liked. But drought control is something that isn't easily fixed. Still, one slight mishap was a potential precursor for disaster at what was arguably the toughest course the Buy.Com Tour has ever seen.
Marco Dawson was the only man to reach double-digits under par when it was all said and done. His 12-under-par total was good enough for a three-shot victory over Knoxville Open winner Darron Stiles. The win was a first in a career that began in the mid-1980s and has spanned more than a few tours of duty.
Dawson was the only player in the final group on Sunday to shoot under par. His 69 was impressive, to say the least, because of his birdies, but also because of his pars.
Nothing was more amazing than his par at the 11th hole. A drive in the trees nearly forced him to take an 'unplayable.' Instead he punched his ball out a few yards. Then he punched it a few more into the fairway, where he promptly got it up and down with a mid-iron and a putt that never left sight of the hole. The par kept him a shot ahead of the field, which he quickly added to at the 13th and 14th holes. Birdies on each gave him a cushion heading to the final three holes that had affectionately been dubbed the 'Bermuda triangle' by fellow pro Ryan Howison during his stint with us as an on-course commentator during the week.
Dawson made bogey at the difficult 16th, but hit a terrific tee-shot at the par-3 17th over water to a back-left 'sucker pin.' Unbelievable in our eyes. But then again, Dawson isn't the top-ranked ball-striker on the Buy.Com Tour for nothing. He made par at 17 and cruised home with a par at the last for a three-shot win.
Dawson tried to get us to believe that he wasn't thinking about victory after Saturday's third round. But he let the tongue slip a bit in his victory speech with Jerry Foltz when he admitted to a Saturday night haircut from his wife and a bunch of thoughts creeping in along the way in Round 4 about what he might say if he won.
Forgive Dawson for looking ahead. He deserves the break. This is a guy who looks the part of a superhero, tends to get a bit emotional but never loses touch with the soft-heart that makes him such a likeable guy. He's spent the better part of seven years on the PGA Tour, but has always struggled a bit to hang with the world's best. He's fought injuries and confidence as well along the way.
In fact, three years ago he played some of the best golf the Buy.Com Tour has seen en route to a spot in the top 15. He lost a playoff at the Tour Championship that year to Bob Heintz, but appeared well on his way to success at the next level. Then his back saddled him and forced him into surgery, thus taking away any momentum he'd built up for another run at the PGA Tour.
Now, thanks to his first ever victory, Dawson, who played collegiately at Florida Southern with the likes of Lee Janzen and Rocco Mediate, has all but locked up another chance to get back on the big tour and hang out with his college buddies once again.
Ball-striking can take you a long way in this game. It took Marco into the winner's circle Sunday in suburban Chicago. And now he may just be ready to parlay a week's worth of happiness in the Windy City into a permanent spot on the PGA Tour for year's to come.
Way to go Marco! And just so you know, it's OK to think ahead this time.
Full coverage of the LaSalle Bank Open