Halfway through the third and final round of the 57th Navajo Trail Open, it was clear anyone who was in contention after 36 holes was playing for second place.
Derek Tolan of Highlands Ranch took a three shot lead into Sunday’s final round at Hillcrest Golf Club in Durango and fired a 6-under 65 to run away with the title at 13-under 200, which is a new tournament record for the 54-hole event.
“I don’t think I had a par putt outside of a tap in. I just did what you’re supposed to do, and it’s easier said than done, usually,” Tolan said. “You have to have control over the golf ball, and I fortunately did. That with a couple shot lead, you don’t have to do anything weird but play solid and hope a couple of putts go in, which they did.”
The victory earned Tolan $3,500 in prize money.
Wil Collins and Justin Keiley finished tied for second at 207, followed by Justin Bardgett, who missed a short putt on No. 18 and bogeyed to finish at 208. Billy Comeaux and Eddie Stewart finished tied for fifth at 209.
Tolan played the front nine of the final round in 3 under with birdies at Nos. 4, 5 and 9.
He followed up the birdie at nine with another birdie on 10 to move to 11 under for the tournament. He added a birdie with a long putt on the par-4 14th and got it to 13 under with a birdie at 17, a par-5.
“I’ve known Derek for years, and we have great respect for each other’s games,” said Collins, the 2016 NTO champion who played in the final grouping with Tolan. “He was doing exactly what you’re supposed to do out there pretty much on every hole. He looked really solid, and I hope this can be a stepping stone to boost him to a lot of great things the rest of the year.”
After a tough first round that finished with a 2-over 73, Keiley figured out the course in the second and third rounds and closed the tournament with a 5-under 66. He shot 68 during Saturday’s second round.
“I did everything well to shoot well,” Keiley said. “I didn’t short side myself, made all the 4- or 5-footers for par that you have to make because the slopes are so severe out here. I thought the course was playing hard, and I’m happy with my score today. I could have made a few more birdies, but I also could have missed a few.
“I think the first round here, I didn’t really understand the course. It took me two rounds to learn. I was making silly mistakes in the pro-am and the first round.”
Collins held a share of the lead with Tolan after the first round and was four shots back entering Sunday. Like several players Sunday, Collins had to grind out pars on the course that played softer than normal after steady rain fell Saturday and a heavy rain dropped in the early morning hours Sunday.
“I had some issues hitting it left again today,” Collins said. “I told myself I was going to work tomorrow, so keep a good attitude and work as hard as I can. It was pretty evident coming through the 10th hole that Derek was running away with it. I just told myself to grind it out and maybe get a piece of second.”
Glenn Workman, who was three shots back of Tolan entering Sunday, finished tied for seventh with Jimmy Makloski at 210.
Workman was never able to get his round going Sunday, as he shot 2 over on the front nine to fall out of contention. He also caught a tough break on No. 16 when his tee shot ended up in a fairway bunker and settled into a trench left from the rain water. He made bogey.
The dominant victory was far from Tolan’s mind entering the tournament. He came into the weekend with low expectations after he had struggled with the mental side of his game, and a big point of focus this week was staying relaxed and not getting into his own head. He did so Sunday by regularly checking his phone for updates from the U.S. Open.
“That’s what my big concern was, and has been lately. I haven’t been very good mentally at all,” he said. “I wanted to use this as a stepping stone to check myself and figure out what works for me and not worry about anything else.
“All the tournaments I’ve ever won, I’ve never gone in expecting to win. I always went in focused on what I was doing, so if I’m going to learn anything from this it’s getting back to that and not worrying about who’s in the field or what the conditions are like or anything like that. Just tee up a ball and go hit it. ... Even today, I didn’t care what anyone else was doing. Every shot presented a challenge, and I just focused on that. I’ll do alright as long as I stay in that mind frame.”
Tolan, along with several of the professionals in the NTO field, will head to Farmington for the 72-hole San Juan Open this Thursday through Sunday at the San Juan Country Club. It’s a tournament and a course Tolan has had plenty of success at, as he won the 2009 title with a tournament record 24-under 260.
“Going down there, yeah, I have confidence, but I also know probably better than anybody that golf doesn’t care about what you did the day before,” Tolan said. “You have to start from scratch.”