51st Cottonwood Classic ends with win by past champ, narrow playoff round for net honors | CraigDailyPress.com

51st Cottonwood Classic ends with win by past champ, narrow playoff round for net honors

Hayden's Taylor Branstetter, left, and Rifle's Jeb Savage display their final results on the scoreboard Sunday following the 51st annual Cottonwood Classic at Yampa Valley Golf Course. Savage won the overall tournament for the second time, while Branstetter was tied for the best net score in the championship flight, winning a playoff round for the top spot in adjusted scores.

With a gallery of spectators and a veritable parade of golf carts rounding out the day, the biggest event of the summer at Yampa Valley Golf Course concluded memorably Sunday.

Rifle’s Jeb Savage retook the title for the 51st annual Cottonwood Classic with the lowest overall score among 95 players at 222 strokes across Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Savage, who won the championship in 2016 with a 226, was the only golfer to break par during the tournament, with a -2 on the opening day, following that up with an even 72 Saturday.

The final round, however, was a little more of a struggle, as fatigue settled in, combined with the weariness of camping out on the grounds.

“That took its toll, sleeping on the ground near the maintenance shed for three days,” he said. “Still had a lot of fun, even went boating the other day.”

Savage said only two holes were truly bad for him: a +3 on Hole 4 Saturday and a +2 on Hole 17 Sunday.

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“Craig’s always a fun tournament, and it’s a tough track, so you get around it the best you can,” he said.

Shooting an 80 Sunday was still good enough to give Savage the victory in terms of gross scores, closely followed in the championship flight by John Dickson’s 227 (77, 72, 78).

Ultimately, the No. 3 spot in total strokes for the championship flight went to Brandon Martin and Cory Nolan, tied at 230, though that was due to the 228 gross shared by Taylor Branstetter and Frank Wilkinson — both with a 5 handicap — that put the two in tiebreaker mode for the win in net scores, each with an adjusted 213.

Branstetter and Wilkinson began the playoff round on the seventh hole, each hitting a solid drive on the Par 3 to get close to the green on either side. A successful chip by Wilkinson nearly gave him a birdie and allowed him to maintain par and put the pressure on Branstetter.

He responded by sinking a 40-foot putt to even it up again and evoke a huge round of applause from the crowd accompanying them.

“I had to shoot that slider and just got lucky,” Branstetter said.

The two moved to the eight hole for another go, with Branstetter hitting onto the fairway and Wilkinson going into the rough, which would be the difference-maker as they finished with a 4 and a 5, respectively, with no fewer than nine carts — toting family and friends in attendance — zipping back to the pro shop all at once across the ninth fairway.

“I just buckled down and tried to shoot good,” Branstetter said.

Branstetter, from Hayden, has been playing in the Cottonwood since 2008, while Wilkinson, from Grand Junction, has been part of it for the past 25 years.

“It’s the first playoff round I’ve ever had here, but I’ve been in them four or five times over the years at other courses. First one I’ve lost,” Wilkinson said.

Despite plenty of familiarity with Yampa Valley, Wilkinson credited course pro Jeff Harnasch and the grounds crew with making the site a whole new kind of challenge.

“They did a nice job mixing up how they set up the course, moving the tee boxes forward and backward to change the course just a little,” he said.

A higher handicap put Kirk Cavarra in the first flight rather than the championship group, though his 223 (75, 76, 72) was the second-lowest score of the entire field. PJ Zenewicz (238) and Mark Fischer (245) were right behind in gross scores, with Mike Kuberry’s 203 giving him the net win in the flight and Jeff Hauer’s 211 giving him second.

Pete Heuer won the second flight at 243, Jeff Hart next at 245, and Ron Alberts and Richard Woolley tied at 248. Net went to Patrick Burwell (206) and Rick Rayl (207).

In the third flight, Keith Branstetter (248), Barry Alford (253) and Chuck Kistler (267) won gross and Dave Ruechel (202) and Brett Sperl (207) net.

The fourth flight’s gross and net wins went to Gary Zulian (270) and Dave Andujo (212), with the fifth flight won by Nick Lunn (282) and Doug Larson (210).

For Alberts, the fourth straight journey from Delta was well worth it, with a sunny, slightly breezy weather Friday and Saturday that cooled down Sunday.

“This tournament is one of the nicest around,” he said. “Everybody comes here for a good time.”