It’s not every day you see an Oklahoma Sooner and Penn State Nittany Lion square off in Western Pennsylvania. But that’s exactly what happened when T.J. Howe, the Nittany Lion, and Beau Titsworth, the Sooner, took to the course Thursday during the final round of the 116th WPGA Open Championship at Valley Brook Country Club in McMurray.
After shooting a 10-under-par 62 on Wednesday, Titsworth held a comfortable lead going into the final round, but Howe didn’t make it easy on the Pittsburgh resident. He took the lead away once or twice, but ultimately Titsworth turned in another championship-worthy round and shot a 3-under 69 to win.
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“This does a lot for me,” Titsworth said about how a win like this motivates him for the future. “It doesn’t matter where it is, you have to be in the situation and know how you are going to react and how to strategize a round. Golf is chess. I mean, it’s more than just moving a piece, you have to be able to perform to be able to do it.”
Titsworth’s final round didn’t start off as great as his second round did Wednesday. After a birdie on No. 3, Titsworth bogeyed back-to-back holes. During his first round Tuesday, he bogeyed No. 5.
Playing out of the trees on that par 5, Titsworth thought he shot well enough to put him in a good position on the green.
“I thought it was soft up in front of the green, and it really wasn’t,” Titsworth said. “It was the second ball that we really saw bounce all day. I just wasn’t really expecting it. I wasn’t really hitting it well enough early, and (Howe) could’ve really ran away with it.”
The Penn State graduate and assistant golf coach almost did. On the 7th hole, Howe drilled a tee shot within a few feet of the hole and then tapped in for eagle for the first lead change of the day.
“I hit a 3-wood right at the hole, and I get up there and it’s a foot from the hole,” Howe said. “I mean that’s just dumb luck, to hit it 281 and within a foot. But I made a good swing, and I hit it right where I was looking.”
That wouldn’t be the last time the lead would change. Howe gave it right back on No. 9 after carding his first bogey of the tournament, and Titsworth sunk a nice putt for his second birdie of the day.
Titsworth attacked the back nine like he had the day before. He birdied four of the remaining nine holes, but he also had to hold off a charging Howe down the stretch.
After hitting his tee shot into the trees on No. 16, Titsworth attempted to bend his shot back into the fairway and ended up in the bunker on the opposite side of the fairway. He hit a solid recovery shot out of the bunker and was able to recover for par. But Howe birdied the hole.
Then on No. 17, after hitting his second shot into the water alongside the green, Titsworth recovered with a wedge he put within a foot of the hole and tapped in for bogey. Again, Howe answered with a birdie and cut the lead to one going into the final hole.
The pair hit almost identical bunker shots leading up to the 18th green, but Titsworth was able to stick a bunker shot a few feet from the hole, which was the nail in the coffin. Howe closed his round with a bogey, and Titsworth converted his birdie.
“That was a nice way to cap it off,” Titsworth said. “But it was a lot closer than what the scoreboard said.”
It was his third multi-day-event victory as a professional, but winning like he did showed he has the ability to do what he wants to do in crunch time.
“I kind of like the fact that I messed up 17 because it showed me what I can do under actual pressure,” Titsworth said. “I mean, playing with a cushion versus a one-shot lead is completely different. I mean, you guys saw, we had three two-shot swings, so it could have easily gone the other way.”
Robert Morris alum Matt Gurska finished third with a final score of 11-under, and Alec Stopperich, a Peters Township alum and a junior at Safford, was the low amateur of the tournament, shooting a 10-under.