Shocking finish at Boise Open sends winner back to PGA Tour

Note to Korn Ferry Tour professional golfers: A par on the 18th hole at Hillcrest Country Club on Sunday at the Albertsons Boise Open is a perfectly acceptable score.

Just make a par and then see what happens.

That’s essentially what Vanderbilt alum Will Gordon did on the first hole of a three-run playoff Sunday that also featured Philip Knowles and MJ Daffue. Knowles and Daffue battled hard on the 18th green.

Gordon’s par gave him a two-year first playoff win at the Boise Open since 2014. The tournament was the first of three Korn Ferry Tour Finals events in which golfers from the Korn Ferry Tour and PGA Tour hope to secure the PGA Tour cards for next season.

“I’m so excited,” Gordon said of his first Korn Ferry Tour victory. “I can’t believe it, honestly.”

Indeed, it was an almost unbelievable turn of events.

Gordon, the 2019 SEC Player of the Year, began the round tied for 13th and seven strokes off the lead. But he got on the leaderboard by launching an eagle on the par-5 second hole and later birdied five straight on the back nine on his way to an 8-under 63, which tied him with another golfer for the best round of the day.

Gordon posted a 21-under total. And then came the wait. He started nearly two hours ahead of Knowles, who led after each of the first three laps.

“I went to the locker room and hung out,” Gordon said. “I honestly hoped I had a chance.”

Finally, Gordon made his way to the driving range as Knowles played the 18th hole. Knowles, who shot a 61 and a 64 in the first two rounds, was on his way to shooting a 1-under 70 in the final round. He walked the 18th tee with a one-stroke lead and a tournament win in hand.

But Knowles’ approach ended up in the back fringe, well over the hole at the tricky 18th. His shot came out hot and didn’t settle until he was well past the hole.

“I was like, ‘Unless he makes a 30, we’ve got some golf left to play,'” Gordon said.

That 30 didn’t go in, and so began the three-man playoff.

As the three golfers approached the 18th green on the first playoff hole, Gordon was well down the hole and Knowles and Dafoe were up. Gordon went first and his ball came to rest about 18 inches from the hole.

“Basically I knew I had made 4 (even), and then I thought, ‘Maybe one of these guys isn’t going to make it,'” Gordon said.

In fact, they both failed. And again, and again. Knowles and Daffue both climbed out of the playoff hole having carded double bogeys.

And Gordon walked away with a trophy and the winner’s check for $180,000.

“It just happened so fast,” Gordon said. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, I can make two shots from 18 inches. This is very nice.’ … I’m very happy with the way it worked out, obviously, and I’m happy to be back on the PGA Tour.”

After an extended stint on the Korn Ferry Tour, Gordon has locked in a return to the PGA Tour, where he has made 43 starts, including a tie for third at the 2020 Travelers Championship.

As for Knowles, he didn’t get the win he so desperately wanted. But he earned his first PGA Tour card and easily his best finish as a pro.

“I know I have a PGA (Tour) card … and I don’t even know what that really means,” Knowles said. “I have a lot of learning to do.”

However, one course is already in the books.

“I learned that I can win here … even though I didn’t get over that line,” Knowles said. “I played great golf and I have two more weeks (in the Korn Tour Finals). So, I have to leave here with my head held high.”

NOTES: Daffue had earned his PGA Tour card before coming to the Boise Open via his regular season points tally. … Sunday marked the second year in a row that the leader’s play on the 18th green left those in attendance gasping. Last year, Aaron Rai held the lead before watching his shot from the back fringe go through the hole and onto the front of the green. He settled for a double bogey and lost by one shot to eventual champion Grayson Sigg. … The Korn Ferry Tour Finals continue Thursday with the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship in Columbus, Ohio.

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