OLIVER PAIPOONGE – Johnny Ruiz figured he had to go low on Sunday.
But heading into Sunday’s final round at the Staal Foundation Open, he guessed a 5-under 67 might not be enough.
Turns out, it was.
Ruiz rose out of the pack, playing in the fourth-last threesome of the day, to score the come-from-behind win, his first on the Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada, overcoming a double-bogey on the fourth hole that threatened to derail his championship bid.
Ruiz, a native of Camarillo, Calif., rolled in a birdie putt on the 18th hole at Whitewater Golf Club to take the outright lead for the first time all week, then waited as the final three groups played the closing holes.
Playing in the final group, Chad Ramey had an eagle chip to force a playoff, but came up short, settled for birdie a three-way share of second.
One back on the 18th tee, Kramer Hickok, the 54-hole co-leader needed birdie on his final hole to keep going, but his chip checked too soon and his birdie putt slid just left of the hole.
The 23-year-old Ruiz made his way back from the practice green to hoist the trophy, erasing the sting of a second-place finish at the GolfBC Open earlier this season.
“It feels awesome,” said Ruiz, whose final round included seven birdies, three on the back nine, earned him $31,500 and vaulted him into second place on the money list.
“It’s the best win of my career and hopefully there’s more to come. But it definitely feels good to get one under the belt now.”
Ruiz said he knew it was tight at the top, with a number of players still into contention as he made his way through the inward nine.
“I was just thinking one more, one more. I kept telling myself it was my day and every time I told myself that I’d make another putt. Just coming down the stretch, coming into 18, I knew I needed one more, at least for a playoff. I’m happy not to be in a playoff right now.”
At the time he hit 18, Max McGreevy had already posted a 12-under 276.
Hickok, who won last week in Winnipeg to move into third spot on the money list, had to settle for second this time around, as disappointing as it may be.
It’s a game of inches, Kramer agreed.
Still, he’ll take the result.
“In hindsight, looking back, it’s been a great couple of weeks. It was frustrating that I had the lead after nine and gave it up. That’s something I’m going to learn from this experience,” the Dallas native said.
“I haven’t been in this position very often and it’s something I’m going to have to learn and figure out and go from there and talk to some guys and see what they’re doing.”
A 74 on Friday was the one blemish on Ramey’s weekend, a double bogey on the fourth his downfall on Sunday.
He wasn’t complaining, having a chance to tie for the lead as he approached the raucous 18th green.
“I gave myself a shot. I really had a pretty good number back there from the fairway and I just caught it a little off the heel. I wish I could have given myself a better opportunity to make eagle, but I still had a chance.”
Vancouver’s Seann Harlington was the top Canadian, with an 8-under, 280 total, tied for 15th.