FORT WAYNE – For once, the polite silence was ruffled, and there was an energetic murmur as the modest-sized gallery shuffled from the eighth green to the ninth tee at Pine Valley Country Club on Monday.
The Kid and The Champ, separated by five strokes just four holes earlier, were now only a shot apart as they stood on the 390-yard, par-4 No. 9 tee.
Mitch Rutledge, the 19-year-old who set the first round of the Men’s City Golf Tournament on fire with an 8-under 63, had lost the lead and then some over Sunday’s second round, and briefly into Monday, to two-time defending champion Scott Pieri.
But when Rutledge birdied No. 8 and Pieri had a bogey-5, the Pieri margin that had been five shots after Monday’s first four holes was now sliced to one.
And the game, as they say, was afoot.
Yet, to hush the murmur, to squelch the rally, and send him on his way to his third consecutive city title, that’s about how close Pieri stuck his approach shot on No. 9 – about a foot.
Pieri made the birdie. Rutledge, within eight feet of one, didn’t. And that is where the two parted company. Rutledge went on to bogey four straight holes on the back nine, and Pieri finished with eight pars and a birdie. And while Johnny Strawser, playing in the group ahead, got to 3-under and finished as the tournament runner-up, no one touched Pieri, who shot a final round 1-under 70 for a 54-hole total of 207.
Strawser finished three shots back at 210. Four-time champion Sam Till Jr., who began the day one shot behind Pieri and Rutledge, was third with a 211. Rutledge, a long hitter who searched for his short game Monday, had a final round of 76 for a 213 total.
So another one goes in the books for the 44-year-old Pieri. This one, in particular, belongs in the Fort Wayne Golf Association history book.
It is win No. 5, which puts him in heady company with 9-time winner Tom Kelley and the only other 5-time winner, Dave Schumaker.
Five is a huge number, Pieri said. It’s a 90-year-old tournament, and there are two other guys who have won the same amount of tournaments I have won. That’s a pretty neat thing to be a part of. Dave Schumaker’s got five and Tom’s (Kelley) got nine. And now I’ve got five. That’s just staggering to me. That’s such a big number.
Five appeared to be a big lead for Pieri early Monday, especially considering that he and Rutledge began the day tied. But as Rutledge had a bogey at No. 1 and double-bogey at No. 2, Pieri had back-to-back birdies on 3 and 4.
But when Pieri went into a three-bogeys-four-holes funk, Rutledge evened himself out and got to within the one shot at No. 8.
Up steps Pieri on No. 9, and up steps Pieri.
Nine righted the ship for me, he said.
That’s when he hit the birdie-3. But five is still a big number.