Given that backdrop, there was no more beautiful sight Sunday than when Wigington’s 20-foot putt from the front of the 18th green disappeared for the birdie to give the long-time Alexandria friends their record-tying fifth Sunny King Charity Classic championship.
“He had a great day putting, he played great the whole tournament,” Reaves said. “We get to 18 and I know we’re in a position where we need to win this tournament right now.
“I walked up to him before he putted and said, ‘You’ve done so much, you deserve this; you deserve this putt, knock it in.’ He knocks it right in the hole. He played so well. I would have felt bad for him not to win this tournament as well as he played.”
Wigington’s winning putt, which avoided a twilight playoff with Marcus Harrell and Cory Etter and was reminiscent of a similar putt in the gloaming Reaves made several years back, capped a final-round best-ball 10-under-par 60 at Anniston Country Club and put the winners at 38-under-par 176 for the tournament — one stroke short of tying the modern-era scoring record.
It moved them into a tie with Patrick Cushman and Eric Hamilton for the most team wins in King Classic history and made Reaves the winningest individual player with six King crowns. He won his first with Jeff Russell in 1997.
“It was a second shot in the dark,” Reaves said.
Harrell and Etter finished second at 177 after also shooting 60. Second-round leaders Brennan Clay and Dan Glidewell shot 63 and were third at 178, and defending champions Jeremy McGatha and Jaylon Ellison, who hung in four-team final-round shootout for 14 holes, were fourth (180).
While Wigington made a number of crucial putts on Sunday -- just as he did all weekend – he didn’t just come up big with the flat stick. One of his biggest shots of the day came on the par-4 15th when he nearly holed his approach, leaving a tap-in birdie to reach 37-under-par after Harrell had drained 40-footer on the same green moments earlier – his second long-range putt on the back nine -- to get his team to 37-under.
“I told Gary today I’m just a jockey riding Secretariat; I’m just along for the ride, I’m loving it,” Reaves said.
The final round was billed as a Sunday shootout expected to keep players and patrons on the edge of their seats, and it didn’t disappoint, as evidenced by the armada of carts following each of the last two groups the entire 18 holes. The final two pairings produced 30 birdies and one eagle.
Wigington and Reaves came to amphitheater at 18 needing birdie to win, but Clay and Glidewell could have forced a three-way playoff if they birdied and Wigington-Reaves parred.
Reaves’ approach shot landed in the left fringe between the bunker and green. Glidewell hit into the right bunker. Clay’s approach hit the green but below the hole. Wigington, hitting last in the foursome, hit a shot that landed near the hole, then spun back toward the front of the green, stopping just short of rolling into the fringe.
Reaves and Clay both missed their birdie attempts. Wigington, riding the confidence established in a recent putting lesson, stepped to his ball and ran home the winner.
“I told Randy out in the fairway I didn’t want to go any more holes, let’s try to win it right here, whatever we have to do,” Wigington said. “He putted it up there close and there was nothing left for me to do but try to make it. It always feels better to make it on the last hole to win.”
The whole last three holes were filled with drama.
Clay made a nice birdie putt on 16 to get his team within one of the lead despite a series of lip-outs early in their round, but the whole tenor of the tournament changed on the par-5 17th.
Etter and Harrell both found the hazard that split the fairway off the tee. Etter advanced his ball 10 yards with an awkward stance and Harrell extricated his ball from between two rocks, damaging his 62-degree wedge in the process.
They managed to save par, but it was like they had lost a stroke because Wigington and Reaves were both capable of making birdie or better there.
“He hit driver and half the people up here thought it went in (the hazard) and half thought it stopped, so I tried to play it safe and hit 3-wood,” Harrell said. “It was the most solid shot I hit all day and it went right in the middle of the ditch. I tried to play it safe and just hit it too good.
“I was going to try to hit an easy driver and stay short, but then we decided to play it safe and let me hit 3-wood to give us one in play. Just hit the best shot. Probably just too much adrenaline at the time.”
Neither of the other two contenders had better luck when they came to the hole.
Wigington and Reaves both found the greenside bunker with their approach. It took Wigington two to get out and Reaves’s sandie toss caught the edge of the fringe and shot past the hole. They wound up making par.
Clay and Glidewell, meanwhile, were both in good position at the green. Glidewell cleared the hazard off the tee and hit the green in two, but wasn’t aggressive on his eagle putt and missed his birdie try. Clay’s 3-wood approach found the back fringe and threw it up tight, but missed a three-foot birdie putt that would have tied for the lead.
“I was nervous, obviously,” Clay said. “I felt really good over it, but when I got up to hit the ball I kind of got quick and pulled it a little bit. I just missed it. It was dead straight, all I had to do was just hit it in the back of the hole.”
The final round was expected to be a shootout and it was all that. Wigington and Reaves birdied six holes on the front, including the last four in a row, and played holes 6 through 15 in 7-under. The two most clutch putts in the run were Wigington’s 20-footer for birdie on 6 to produce their first outright lead and Reaves’ 30-footer for birdie on 11 after Harrell made one of similar length for eagle to tie the lead moments earlier.
Harrell and Etter birdied only one of their first five holes, then played their next 10 in 9-under-par.
Al Muskewitz covers golf for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.