Dublin pro Bob Sowards kept his goal alive of winning both the Senior Open and the Ohio Open in the same season by repeating as the Main Division champion while Hudson amateur Mike Cassell proved he can not only compete at a high level but can excel when he won the Super Seniors title for the first time.
Sowards, 52, became the first player in 13 years to repeat as the Senior champion when he shot a matching rounds of 2-under 68 to finish at four-under 136 over the West Course’s demanding 6,469 yards.
His 68 in the final round came on a day when the wind, persistent and swirling, made the West play a little tougher than normal.
The last player to win back-to-back titles was Findlay’s Tom Herzan in 2006 and 2007. Six other players have won multiple times, with Canton Brookside’s Gary Robison being the all-time leader with victories in 2004, 2010, 2015 and 2018.
The win also means Sowards can become the first to win both Opens in the same year when the 99th Ohio Open, sponsored by Pyramid Treating, Inc and Mark & Shirley Vaughn is contested June 29-July 1 at Weymouth and Fox Meadow Country Clubs in Medina, Ohio.
Sowards, who turned 52 on Tuesday, and six others have won both titles but no one has done it in the same season. And, he is a rare three-time winner of the Ohio Open, but never at Weymouth and Fox Meadow. Pulling off a golf version of a double-double is a goal that Sowards set at the start of the season. So, first mission accomplished.
“I have a shot and I’m the only one with a shot,” said Sowards, who prevailed over Seville resident and Firestone member Howard Clendenin (68-72—140) by four shots while six others, including 2013 champion and Lakewood Country Club PGA Professional Tom Waitrovich (69-72) finished at 141.
“I’ve never played well at those two courses, but he earned $2,500 for his win at Firestone.
For the second year in a row the 478-yard, par-5 13th hole proved pivotal in Sowards winning. He eagled the hole both years to break up what had been a virtual head-to-head match with his closest pursuers. Last year the victim was Chardon’s Tony Milam. This year it was Clendenin, who had birdied the hole while playing one group in front of Sowards.
Clendenin’s birdie pulled him into a tie with Sowards, both at one-under. That all changed when Sowards rolled in a scintillating 25-foot putt to go to 3-under for the tournament. Clendenin gave Sowards some breathing room when he bogeyed the 15th hole and the lead grew to four shots when Sowards birdied the 506-yard 17th.
“It was hard out there all day,” said Sowards. “The wind was blowing in all four directions and it kept changing. That made it tough when it came to picking clubs. I thought I played well on the front. I just didn’t hit it close enough to have many birdie chances. But that changed on the back.”
Sowards failed to make a birdie on the front, which he turned in one-over 36. He had two birdies and that eagle on the back – along with one bogey — to close with at 3-under 32.
CASSELL ‘THRILLED’ WITH SUPER WIN
He is 65-years-old. Hadn’t played competitive golf since early December. About two weeks ago he underwent cataract surgery. He was an amateur playing against professionals and a bunch of younger guys.
Mike Cassell overcame all that and proved he can play at a high level when he won the Super Seniors Division with rounds of 67-68 for a five-under 135, the lowest score posted by anyone, regardless of division.
Cassell, of Hudson, has always been humble in victory and gracious in defeat and Thursday was no different.
“I am thrilled,” he said, quietly in the ballroom at Firestone minutes after winning by four shots over runnerup Monty Guest, of Solon (68-72-139). “Winning is not easy. There is golf and then there’s tournament golf and they’re not even the same sport.”
Guest won the Senior Division title of the Northeast Ohio Amateur earlier in the week.
Cassell, low amateur in the Super Seniors in 2015, got his second round off to a fine start with a 15-foot birdie putt on the first hole.
“I have always said you have to get through one, two and three on this course because if you come up short on any of those holes the ball rolls back down the fairway 40 yards. So, I’m always playing those first three holes for par. Get me in the middle of the green and give me three pars and I’m happy.”
Another birdie on the fifth hole got Cassell to five-under for the tournament and provided some wiggle room when he made bogey from a fairway bunker on the eighth and 3-putted the ninth.
He righted the ship with significant par-saves on the 10th and 11th. His second shot from the right rough on 11 sailed 50 feet past the hole but he coaxed his first putt to within two feet and made it.
“It was a pretty easy right to left putt,” he said. “I mean you could see it. I was fortunate enough to get it to within two feet.”
By that time he was comfortably in front and he gave himself more breathing room with an eagle on the par-5 13th hole, knocking a five-iron shot to within 30 feet an making the putt.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tim is a Contributing Writer for the Northern Ohio PGA. Award-winning golf writer and sports reporter for the Plain Dealer, now retired. Contributor to the Akron Beacon Journal, Canton Repository, AP, other national publications.