By Dave Morrison
He denied it, but there is no doubt that Christian Brand was in the driver’s seat going into the final round of the 31st annual BNI Memorial Classic, played in honor of Glenn Scott, Monday at The Resort at Glade Springs.
Even though the proverbial odds seemed stacked against him on the immaculate Cobb Course.
Six shots back, and admittedly a better front-runner than a comeback kid.
Then he started the day with a bogey right off the bat, without the fortune of being in the last group with Man’s Tad Tomblin, who had a 5-shot lead going into Monday’s final round.
Problematic, but not a paramount problem for Brand, the former Marshall golfer and Charleston native, who has had a busy summer.
Brand, the West Virginia State Amateur champion, who played in last week’s Greenbrier Classic, shot a 5-under-67 and won his third straight BNI title, the first player to win three in a row.
“I’d much rather be in front than trailing,” Brand said. “And then to start out with a bogey, that wasn’t good. But I had the putter working, and that was the real difference today, and the first two days.
“It’s my first come-from-behind win, so that was good to learn from. The goal was to come in and win, and I was able to do that. Three in a row? That’s good. This was a good field. There are a lot of really good players here, so it was good to win.”
Brand got dialed in after that bogey and on the backside, he started with three straight birdies on 10, 11 and 12 to draw even.
But his most important shot probably came on the par-3 No. 13.
His tee shot landed in the back bunker, and left him looking at a potential bogey, with the hole sitting downhill. Anything short would leave him looking at a two-putt. Too strong and the ball would roll seemingly forever.
His shot from the sand was nearly perfect, leaving him 10 feet for an all-important par. And he nailed that.
“Shot of the day,” Brand said. “The last thing you want to do is have three straight birdies and sit there looking at a bogey. It would make all the work (in getting the birdies) for nothing.”
Tomblin would end up finishing second, and it might have been more detrimental to him then anyone.
Going to No. 15, he thought he was three down instead of two.
Instead of hitting it in the fairway, he tried to fly the green over the trees on the dog-leg right par-4.
“I thought I was three back and if that was the case I knew I had to make birdie on three of the last four holes, so I decided to go for it,” Tomblin said. “Looking back, I probably wouldn’t have done that.”
His shot hit a tree and landed near the No. 16 tee box. He had a 2-foot opening to the hole, but flew the green from the leafy-lie, and bogeyed that hole.
Brand, meanwhile, sparkled with deadly precision, consistently hitting it in the fairway and the green.
“His putter was on fire,” said playing-partner Derek Brooks, who finished sixth in his first BNI. “Everything he hit was going in.”
He finished with a birdie on No. 18, and nearly made eagle there.
“This is a great tournament,” Brand said. “I keep telling my friends they need to get in the field. The three-course setup. The final day at Glade. It’s one of the best tournaments of the year.”
Tomblin was disappointed with a 75, which was good enough for a second-place finish.
“I’m not happy with it, but it’s not the last 75 I’ll shoot,” Tomblin said. “I think I’ll sleep all right. I said coming into the final round that I’ll have to hit it straighter than I did (Sunday) at Grandview. It’s a little more forgiving than here. And I was crooked a lot of the day.”
Evan Muscari (73 Monday), a Pineville native who golfs at Concord, was third, 2008 champion Alan Wharton (73), of Columbus via Summersville, was fourth and Beckley’s Mike Mays (71), the all-time leader in BNI titles with six, was fifth.
“Playing with the tees up messed with my mind,” Muscari said. “I was grabbing the wrong club on the front side. But I got it figured out on the back and came in with a 2-under, and that was a nice way to finish.”
Brand was one of three golfers in red Monday. Mays finished with a 70 and Brian Anania, who placed seventh, had a 71.