Shady Canyon storms back

IRVINE — As the last team to tee off at Wednesday's 15th annual Jones Cup golf tournament, host Shady Canyon Golf Club had some time to converse and take a team picture.

They took it near the practice green. Everyone smiled for the camera.

"Last time we'll be happy all day," club men's champion Eoin Middaugh joked.

About seven hours later, the five team members of Shady Canyon indeed were again happy. With sunlight in short supply on the pro shop patio, they took another team picture.

This one had the Jones Cup trophy.

It was well-earned for Shady Canyon, which completed a stunning comeback to beat three-time defending champion Big Canyon in a one-hole playoff after both teams finished 15-under through 18 holes. It's the first Jones Cup title for Shady Canyon.

The hosts clinched it after ladies' champion Robyn Puckett sank a two-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole, No. 18. Club head professional Kirk Manley also made a 15-foot birdie putt on the playoff hole, totaling two birdies for the team in the two best-ball format.

Big Canyon got one birdie, by men's champion Taylor Wood, but couldn't get another.

"We were getting ready for jackets," Shady Canyon director of golf and team captain Brian Gunson said after his team avoided another playoff hole. "I'm thankful we didn't need to go for the jackets."

Shady Canyon, participating in the Jones Cup for the third time, seemed to be wearing straitjackets the previous two times. The club finished fourth in the five-team event in 2012, and in last place last year.

Shady Canyon fared better on its home course, staying in first or second place nearly the whole time Wednesday. Yet, a championship still seemed like a stretch late in the round.

The hosts saw the bad news on the scoreboard being held by Ricky Owaki, a Yorba Linda native who plays golf at Chico State. Big Canyon finished at 15-under par around the time that Shady Canyon was just 10-under through No. 15.

At least five birdies in the last three holes seemed unlikely.

"We had hit a lot of greens, but we weren't making putts," said Puckett, a former professional from Australia.

She got it started with a 30-foot birdie putt on No. 16, one that proved key in the end.

"The huge thing, clearly, was Robyn's putt on 16," Middaugh said. "She and I were on the green, but neither of those putts were putts that you necessarily expect to make. But one of them had to go in to have any chance."

Puckett kept it going and hit a great tee shot on No. 17, to about five feet from the hole on the par-three. But as it turned out, Shady Canyon didn't even need her to complete the birdie.

Two teammates beat her to it. Senior champion Gary Voorhest nailed a birdie putt from the fringe behind the hole, and Middaugh made one from about 10 feet.

Shady Canyon went into the par-five No. 18 down just two strokes, and the hosts were fired up. They tied it up when Puckett made an 10-foot birdie putt and Gunson added a must-make from eight feet.

"We said coming down 18, 'We have to have to have two birdies here, no matter how we do it,'" Puckett said. "And we made two birdies. We thought the same in the playoff, 'We have to have two birdies because Big Canyon is going to have two birdies.' As it ends up, they had one."

After Manley's make on the playoff hole, players from Big Canyon and Shady Canyon each missed short birdie putts. It would be up to Puckett, who led her team with six birdies on the round, to make the two-footer for the win.

"I just knew I had to hit it inside right, so that's all I thought about," she said. "Just line it up and hit it inside right, and that was it. I didn't overthink it or anything."

Everyone contributed in the win for Shady Canyon, making at least two birdies. Gunson and Manley each had four of them.

Two of Manley's birdies were spectacular, one that he made from behind the green on the par-five No. 3 and a 30-foot putt that he canned to card a two on No. 14.

Gunson said it was good for the club to host the tournament, and the most important thing was that everyone had a good time.

Still, winning the tournament was fun for Gunson, who has participated all three years for Shady Canyon.

"It's been a while since I've had the competitive juices going, so it was nice," he said. "I'll have a nice, cold beer when I get home, and maybe come in late [to work Thursday]."

Picture that.

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