Wendel Akins birdied the final four holes Sunday afternoon as he pulled away for a two-stroke win at the Baton Rouge Open golf tournament.
Akins’ closing 68 gave him a two-day total of 10-under par 134 as he edged defending champion Brandt Garon. Highlighted by an eagle at 18, Garon shot a final-round 67 finishing at 8-under in two trips around BREC’s Santa Maria golf course.
Peyton McCulloch and Todd Elkins tied for third at 4-under 140. Dante Caldera was fifth a 3-under, while Shane Starns took sixth at 2-under.
Garon’s 67 was the low round of the day. Akins’ winning total of 10-under was the tournament’s lowest in at least the last 15 years, according to tournament officials.
“It really feels good putting together two rounds, (or) four nines. You really have to attribute that to the condition of the golf course,” said Akins, a Georgia native who had won a Georgia mid-amateur state championship before moving to Louisiana.
“The level of play throughout the whole field was elevated because of the conditions of the course. BREC did a great job getting the course in shape for us to play.”
Garon trailed Akins by three shots to start the day and by as many as four on the front nine. He began making ground on the back nine by saving par at 11 and 12, two holes that brought Akins bogeys.
Slow putts into the grain were factors in Akins’ only bogeys of the day.
“I’ve been trying to keep the ball on the medium to the down grain side (on the greens),” Akins said. “I hit a couple of shots that got me into the grain, so the pace factor was different.”
Garon picked up another stroke on 13, where he set up a birdie by hitting his approach to six feet. Both players made par at 14 before heading to the par-5 15th.
“It was fun to watch (Akins) play, and it was fun to chase him,” Garon said of his efforts to close the gap on the back nine. “I was frustrated the first few holes because I wasn’t doing any chasing. Then I started making some birdies and chasing him, which is where the fun is.”
At 15, an eagle chip shot checked up, leaving Akins with a 15-foot birdie putt while Garon had a four-footer after sticking a wedge tight. Both players drained their putts, but Akins kept the pressure on.
Garon found a fairway trap of the 16th tee and managed only a par. Akins hit the fairway, and then an approach to five feet leading to his second consecutive birdie.
At 17, Akins made a 15-foot sidehill putt for another birdie, while Garon missed a 12-footer.
Both players hit the par-5 18th in two, and Garon was again closer to the pin. Garon made his 15-foot eagle putt, but it was too little, too late as Akins two-putted for his final birdie.
Garon’s 8-under par total was two shots better than his winning finish in 2013, and would have won the tournament almost any other year.
“The golf course sets up different every year,” Garon said. “Some years you can just feel there’s more birdies out there to be made. You can go at it harder, or you can go at it less. It depends on who you’re playing and the way they’re playing.”
For Akins, winning put a shiny cap on a golf week that almost didn’t get off the ground. Akins added new wedges to his bag early in the week but found he was having trouble with them.
“I was having problems with them this week, and I don’t think I would have gotten it done in this tournament if Jeff McMorris at Edwin Watts hadn’t helped me out. He did everything he could to get the clubs adjusted and have them ready for the weekend.”
They were adjustments that proved to be a perfect fit for Akins’ game.