Even if you weren’t watching every shot, it wasn’t hard to figure out how Steve Quillinan Jr. was playing during the final round of the 69th annual Troy Invitational Sunday at the Country Club of Troy.
Loud cheers rang out when he made his birdie charge, and motorized carts zoomed all across the Walter Travis layout to get a better glimpse of their home-course hero. In the end, he didn’t disappoint.
Trailing by three shots heading into the third round, Quillinan fired a two-under-par 69 to win the prestigious three-day event by one shot over fellow CC of Troy member Matt Horton. Quillinan was even-par over the three days, while Horton, a recent graduate of The College of Saint Rose, finished one-over-par.
The crowded final leaderboard also included two-time Troy Invitational champion Dan Russo of Rolling Hills at Antlers, and former Tri-County Match Play titlist Jim Gifford of Mohawk Golf Club. Both finished two-over-par.
Both Russo and Horton had a chance to catch the 22-year-old Quillinan on the final hole. Russo, whose tap-in birdie on the 16th hole cut Quillinan’s lead to one shot, boomed a big drive in the middle of the 18th fairway, but he went flag-chasing with his approach shot and found the greenside bunker. He failed to get up and down for par and dropped into a tie for third.
Horton almost hit his tee shot into the trees in the right rough, but his ball slipped through, leaving him an open shot to the green. He hit a sold approach shot to within 18 feet, but just missed the birdie putt.
“I felt I had to finish strong,” said Quillinan, a former Tri-County Match Play champion. “I made that bomb of a birdie on the 17th hole, but I pulled my drive on 18. I had to punch a 6-iron through a hole in the trees, and I guess my ball bounced across the top of the bunker. I had a chance for a birdie, but made a nice par to finish.
“This means a lot to me. I’ve been trying to win this forever.”
Quillinan said his goal in the final round was to shoot a 68, and he was only a shot off.
“I felt I had to make some birdies, because there were a lot of good players ahead of me on the leaderboard,” he said. “The best I’ve ever done in this tournament before was third or fourth. I’ve got a lot of family and friends here. It really feels nice to have this kind of support.”
Horton, 21, also had some home-course support, and many in the gallery were hoping his final birdie chance would have created a member-member playoff.
“I gave it a run on that last putt, but I had too much pace,” he said. “We knew by the cheers in Steve’s group how he was playing. I knew, for example, that he birdied 15 and 17. I got one back when I birdied 17, also, but I think the birdie putt I made on 14 was my best putt of the day.
“Playing in front of all my friends and the guys I usually play with here made this tournament very exciting for me. I’ve been playing golf just about every day since the NCAA tournament. I’m thinking about eventually attending law school, but I might try Q school this year to see how I do.”
Gifford, a two-time Saratoga County Amateur champion and Siena College graduate, was the second-round leader, but his three-shot cushion evaporated when he bogeyed the fifth and eighth holes.
Horton got back into the picture with birdies on the ninth and 14th holes, while Russo made the turn at even par but ran into trouble with back-to-back bogeys on the 12th and 13th holes.
Russo, 54, then made another strong challenge when he nearly holed out on the 16th hole to give himself a chance to tie on the final hole.
Steve Quillinan Jr. 69-213, Matt Horton 70-214, Jim Gifford 74-215, Dan Russo 71-215, Casey Komline 71-218, Mark Sabatino 74-220, Thomas Kubinski 73-221, Devin Komline 72-221, Don DeNyse III 69-221, Jeb Buchanan 76-223, James Welch 70-223.