Loar breezes to Chitimacha Louisiana Open title

by Walter Pierce

Edward Loar grew up in the Dallas area and played collegiately at Oklahoma State, so he's used to playing in windy conditions.

Edward Loar grew up in the Dallas area and played collegiately at Oklahoma State, so he's used to playing in windy conditions.

He was right at home Sunday at Le Triomphe Golf & Country Club, when the winds rose after three relatively benign days, and because of that he is the Chitimacha Louisiana Open champion.

The 36-year-old Loar posted a final-round 69 and finished at 17-under-par 267, good enough for a two-stroke margin over fellow OSU alumnus Morgan Hoffman. But for most of Sunday's final round it wasn't that close.

"I never really felt that rattled," said Loar, who finished second in the Tour's Chile Classic, the Tour's last outing. "I made a few bad shots, made a few bogeys and had a couple of three-putts, but I was always able to rally back and get a birdie when I needed it."

Loar posted a 65-65-69-69 series in Chile two weeks ago and picked up where he left off with 68-66-64 scores here over the first three rounds. His seven-under Saturday trip gave him the lead by one shot, and he stretched it with birdies on three of Sunday's first six holes.

Twice over the back nine, his lead was four over the field, and an 8-iron to 10 feet and a following birdie putt on the par-four 17th hole gave him a three-stroke advantage and all but cemented his second Tour win in as many years (he won the 2012 Panama Claro Championship).

"Obviously I'm off to a great start with a win and a second," he said. "I felt good coming out this year, and I've played some of the best golf of my life the last two weeks. I'm 37-under in the last two tournaments, so I'll just ride this until it goes away."

The swirling winds pushed the average score for the 69-player field back over par on Sunday, going from an all-time Open low of 68.464 in Saturday's third round to a 71.333 on Sunday. Only 26 players broke par and only 18 broke 70 less than half of the 39 that went sub-70 on Saturday.

"I knew it was going to be a battle," Loar said. "Obviously it's a Sunday and you're feeling the heat, especially with the scores the last few days. It was completely different today with the wind ... it played a lot harder. But I grew up in Texas. I'm used to this."

Loar hit 15 greens, his high for the week, despite the blustery conditions, including close enough for an eight-foot birdie putt on the par-three sixth and a 12-footer for birdie on the par-three eighth. The latter built his lead to four for the first time.

Hoffman began the day two strokes back after a sterling nine-under 62 on Saturday put him back into contention, and he opened with birdies on the first and second holes Sunday to get within a stroke. But bogeys on the third and fourth pushed him back, and he and the rest of the field never got closer than two strokes the rest of the way.

"I told my caddie that he (Loar) wasn't making any bogeys coming in," said Hoffmann, who graduated from OSU 11 years after Loar in 2011. "He's a great player. I felt like I had a shot the whole day, but I needed to eliminate those bogeys."

The Jupiter, Fla., resident mixed four bogeys with his six birdies in the two-under 69 that gave him solo possession of second place in his third Tour outing of the year. He's made five PGA Tour outings including a tie for 14th in the Puerto Rico Open earlier this year.

"I knew everyone was going to make bogeys," he said. "I figured that if I hit every green, I was going to make some putts. It didn't really work out that way ... it was pretty much up-and-down."

A familiar name to local fans blazed his way to a third-place finish. Brett Wetterich, also a Jupiter resident and the only two-time Louisiana Open winner in history (2003 and 2011), carded a six-under 65 for the low round of the day. He birdied three of the final four holes, finishing 3-3-3-3 for a 14-under 270 total and solo possession of third place.

Wetterich now has two wins, this week's tie for fourth and a tie for ninth in his eight Louisiana Open outings, and one hole may have cost him a run at a third title. He triple-bogeyed the 18th, his final hole, on Saturday.

He began the day seven strokes out of the lead, tied for 24th, before a seven-birdie round that included only one bogey on the 13th.

"I had to make up a lot of ground to catch up and have a chance to win," he said. "I can't complain at all ... my first tournament in five months, and I had only one bad hole."

Troy Merritt began the final round in second place, one shot behind Loar, but the Meridian, Idaho, product struggled in the final group and finished with a six-over 77 tied for the worst round of the day after opening 67-66-66.

Former LSU All-American and 2011 NCAA champion John Peterson of Baton Rouge didn't struggle quite that much, but it was still a battle. Peterson finished at even-par 71 after parring his first 11 holes and mixing two birdies and two bogeys over the final seven.

He still had one of the day's best shots, though, when his 8-iron on the 18th came to rest two inches from the pin for his second birdie of the day, finishing a roller-coaster 65-72-65-71 Open.

"I keep having six-under rounds and then coming back even," Peterson said. I've got to put four rounds together. Today it seemed like every putt was seven or eight feet down wind, and you can't get aggressive on those or it's six feet by. It was one of those days you just have to get around and make pars ... I just made too many."

The other local finding success on Sunday was former UL standout Andrew Noto, with the Luling product rallying with birdies on his final two holes for a two-under 69. He finished tied for 28th at eight-under 276 in his first-ever Tour event, rallying from three bogeys in the first four holes on the back side.

"I fought it to the end," said Noto, who made it into the field as a Monday qualifier and went 68-67-69 over the final three days after an opening 72. "I needed those last birdies after a rough start to the back, and I just wanted two good looks to see what I could do."

Loar had looks all day, and even though he didn't quite take advantage of the front side as much as in his first three rounds (31-32-31), his three-under front added to his lead. A two-putt birdie on the par-five 12th hole kept his advantage at four, and he followed up a three-putt bogey at the 16th with the clinching birdie one hole later.

"That sort of shut the door," Loar said of that birdie. "It was pretty awesome to come up to the final green with that kind of lead."