It could have been a movie script the way the final day of the 116th State Amateur Championship unfolded.
First, Dan O’Rourke, 20 of Oak Hill, a resident of Milford, set the course record with an eight-under-64 in the morning third round of the championship to got 14-under for the tournament and lead by seven strokes. .
Then, Dawson Jones of Jumping Brook, a 19-year-old rising sophomore at the University of Rhode Island, authored a story-book finish, shooting a seven-under-par 65 and coming from seven shots back to win the NJSGA Amateur Championship at 6,823-yard Tavistock Country Club in Haddonfield.
O’Rourke’s 64 tied the low round ever in the State Amateur, set by pro Max Greyserman of Crestmont two years ago at Morris County. The 64 put O’Rourke, the first and second round co-leader at 14 under, and leading by seven shots.
Jones was in second place heading into the final round, but his great start of birdie-eagle got him right back into the chase.
By the ninth hole, Jones had caught O’Rourke, who was two-over for eight holes, but O’Rourke’s birdie on the par-4 No. 9 gave him a one-shot lead at minus 12.
Both players continued to par – with Jones playing one twosome ahead of O’Rourke – until Jones drew even at minus -12 with a birdie on the par-5 No. 15. There, he got his second shot to the fringe of the green at the 542-yard hole, before chipping to within two feet.
Jones made the tournament his own with an eagle on the par-five, 489-yard No. 17. His second-shot approach left him 15 below the hole and he calmly drained the putt, carding eagle on No. 15 for the third time in four rounds. That gave him a two-shot lead at minus-14.
O’Rourke nearly duplicated the feat on No. 17, but just missed his 20-foot eagle putt, brushing the left edge of the hole. His birdie got him to with one stroke of Jones, but he could not sink a 30-foot birdie putt on No. 18.
Jones won at 65-274, breaking the State Amateur record of 276 set by Asian Tour pro Mark McCormick of Suburban at Baltusrol in 2012. O’Rourke was second at 73-275, defending champion Thomas La Morte of Haworth third at 66-279, Jeremy Wall of Manasquan River (68-281) and Mike Graboyes of Watchung Valley (68-281) fourth and Luke Graboyes of Watching Valley sixth at 70-282.
“After making that 60-foot putt for eagle on the second hole, I thought maybe I’ll be the guy with the low round,” said Jones, a Howell resident and former Shore Conference champion. He also won the Met Junior three years ago.
“I got really excited. There was a lot of golf left to play. I wanted to keep grinding. This is the biggest win I’ve ever had.”
It was quite the week for Jones, who played six rounds of golf in four days, including 36 holes on Monday at the U.S. Open sectional qualifier at Canoe Brook where he shot three-under par and tied for 17th place.
“I never had a doubt about winning because you never know what can happen when you start making birdies and the other guy bogeys. This will definitely help my career so much and give me so much confidence, now that I know what I’m capable of,” Jones said.
It was quite the disappointment for O’Rourke, who was at the top of the leaderboard all week.
“I’m disappointed, but I had a lot of fun this week. Today, I started fast in the morning and then I brought it back. Dawson played awesome and I tip my cap to him,” O’Rourke said.
A year ago, La Morte, a rising junior at Campbell University (N.C.), won with even-par 280 under windy conditions at Montammy Golf Club in Alpine.
“There was so much rain here (Tavistock), but they got the greens as fast as they could and they started speeding up this afternoon. To shoot 14 under to win is something, but to shoot 13 under and not win is something else again,” La Morte said.
After the first 36 holes, first-round co-leader Rourke and Trevor Randolph of Arcola shared the lead at six-under-par. O’Rourke shot two-under-par 70 (68-70-138) and Randolph shot 69 for the second consecutive day (69-69-138) to hold a one-stroke lead over Jones and Goldenring, who attends Williams College.
Three other golfers are two shots off the pace including 1998 champion Mike Hyland of Little Mill (71-69-140), 21-year-old Jared Mactas of Edgewood (73-67-140) , a recent graduate of Elon, and 19-year-old John Felitto (71-69-140), a Notre Dame golfer. Mactas’s 67 was the low round of the championship up to that point.
The 41 golfers who shot 5-over-149 or better returned for the 36-hole final day. Defending champion La Morte shot 72-71-143 and was five shots off the pace.