THUNDER BAY – Jamie DePiero was four shots back after eight holes on Sunday.
Six holes later, he was tied for the lead.
By the time he hit the 18th tee, the Thunder Bay golfer was two shots in front of playing partner Evan DeGrazia, looking like a sure bet to finally have his name etched on the AON District Open trophy.
Eventually he did, but it took DePiero an extra playoff hole to capture his first local major title, after an errant second shot found the woods on the final hole at Whitewater Golf Club, leading to a bogey and a 36-hole tie with DeGrazia.
Regrouping for the playoff, DePiero, the runner-up a year ago, found the fairway on the 10th, while DeGrazia hit a low hook that bounded far off the playing surface, leaving him little choice but to punch out and hope to get up and down to extend the match.
Instead he two-putted for bogey, while DePiero reached in regulation and made his par to claim the championship.
“It’s pretty amazing,” said the 32-year-old DePiero. “There’s a lot of history (on this trophy) in Thunder Bay, so to have your name on it is pretty special. It’s awesome, it feels really good.”
DePiero, who spent time last summer on the Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada, said it was disappointing not to get it done in regulation, but a win’s a win.
“I probably should have laid back (on 18). I tried to get it close to the green and it was kind of a dumb decision. But I was pretty quick to switch the focus and focus on what I needed to do coming up on 10,” he said.
It was all DeGrazia in the early going.
After entering the day tied with DePiero after the two golfers fired identical 71s in Saturday’s opening round at Fort William Country Club, he built a four-shot lead through eight holes.
However, a bogey at No. 9, the toughest hole on the course, cut his lead to three, just the opening DePiero was looking for.
DePiero saved par on the 12th, while DeGrazia missed his par putt and settled for bogey.
Down two on No. 14, DePiero launched a tee shot that fell short of the bunker to the right of the reachable green and delicately dropped his second to within striking distance and drained the birdie putt.
Meanwhile DeGrazia uncharacteristically needed to shots to get out of the green-side bunker and missed a short par putt, leading to a two-shot swing that evened the match with four holes left to play.
“I’ve hit that shot probably 100 times in my life. To have that happen – I put a good swing on it, my club just didn’t want to go through, which sucks. I missed the putt for par. You just waste shots, waste shots, waste shots, so you can’t expect too much from yourself after that,” DeGrazia said.
The two-time District Open champion found more trouble on 17, pulling out his driver on the short par 4, after DePiero chose iron and landed it in the fairway. DeGrazia’s shot found the forest and he was forced to play his provisional, missing a short bogey putt for a double, DePiero’s par giving him a two-shot lead heading home.
DePiero found the woods to the left of the 18th green, staked as a hazard, and ultimately bogeyed the hole, DeGrazia’s two-putt birdie from the lower level sending the tournament to a playoff.