COSTA MESA — A third of the way through the 11th annual Jones Cup golf tournament Tuesday, Big Canyon Country Club might have more accurately been dubbed the Great Divide.
The quintet of Robert Pang, Michael Castillo, Will Tipton, Dave Quisling and Martha Redfearn was seven-under-par after six holes to seize a five-shot advantage on then-second-place Mesa Verde.
But with its first collective bogey on No. 7 and only two birdies the rest of the way in the two-best-ball format — combined with a heroic finish by the host unit — Big Canyon stepped onto the tee box on the final hole suddenly tip-toeing on the precipice of defeat.
"I wish we hadn't known," Redfearn said of having seen Mesa Verde post two pars on the demanding finishing hole, leaving the two teams tied at eight under. "If we didn't know [Mesa Verde] made two pars on that hole [in the group just ahead of Big Canyon, the members of which could see Mesa Verde putt on the 18th green while waiting to tee off], I think we could have stepped up just thinking, 'OK let's par this.' "
Instead, Big Canyon, which was attempting to claim its seventh Jones Cup crown, needed at least one par and one birdie to win. Two pars would have meant a playoff.
But none of the five players hit the green on the hole with a listed distance of 200 yards off the blue (men's) tees and 156 off the red (women's) tees.
Quisling's leadoff tee shot went in the water.
Then, needing two of three par putts to salvage a tie, Redfearn's 31-foot uphill challenge wound up four feet shy, Castillo narrowly missed from 10 feet and Tipton's six-foot attempt came up inches short.
With a pair of bogeys, Big Canyon slipped to six-under, allowing Mesa Verde to claim a two-stroke victory and earn its second straight Jones Cup triumph.
"I just wish I'd have played Mesa Verde enough to know that you just can't miss left [on No. 18]," said Tipton, his club's men's champion who birdied three of the first six holes and was Big Canyon's most consistent player. "It's like death."
Castillo, Pang and Tipton all found themselves on a sloped left terrace overlooking the green, creating very difficult opportunities to get up and down for par.
"It's probably one of the toughest finishing holes in Orange County," Tipton said. "[Two-hundred yards] right-to-left to the green, with the green cut right, over the water. What a great finishing hole."
It made for a not-so-great finish for Big Canyon, which captured the lead with two birdies on the first hole, held it through 15 holes, and was tied after 16 and 17 holes. Big Canyon led Mesa Verde by four strokes with five holes left.
"We just did not play well on the back side," said Pang, the club's head professional and team captain. "It's tough. It's tough … We started off so well, we just didn't hold the momentum the whole way through."
Castillo, a club professional, said Tipton and Redfearn (one birdie and four stroke-saving pars by the club women's champion) led the way.
"None of us, other than Will, played solidly all day," said Castillo, who posted two birdies, including a 40-foot chip-in on No. 3. "Martha played nicely today, for the most part … But Robert, Dave and myself just didn't drive the ball well enough to be in an aggressive mode to make birdies. If you don't hit fairways, you're playing defensive golf. And with the format here, where you are trying to make birdies, that's not a good combination."
Pang had birdies on Nos. 1, 3 and 13, but was clearly disappointed in his lack of consistency, particularly off the tee.
"That's what you call leaking oil," Pang said after driving into some trouble along the tree line to the left of the 17th fairway.
Quisling, filling in for senior champion Robert Ihrke, made clutch putts of four and six feet, respectively, on Nos. 15 and 16, to save par and strokes for his team.
"We were seven under after six, so to finish six under is disappointing," Tipton said.
Added Redfearn: "We had only one bogey on our card until the final hole. Sure there were [butterflies] on 18. That's where pressure comes in. That's golf."
Big Canyon will play host to the event next year.
"We played well, but we just fell a little bit short," said Pang, who congratulated Mesa Verde. "That's all right, there'll be next year."