Her stoic expression hid it well, but as she stood over her birdie putt on the final hole of the county championship tournament on Tuesday at Hobbit’s Glen Marriotts Ridge senior Faith McIlvain felt the pressure of the moment creeping in.
Up by just one stroke and with Centennial senior Morgan Taylor already having made her own putt for birdie, McIlvain was in a must-make situation.
“That was probably one of the most stressful putts I’ve ever had,” McIlvain said. “When Morgan made that putt it was like instantly the pressure was on. And it’s one of those things where you try to settle yourself down by going through your routine and trusting the line, but you just never know how you are going to respond.”
In the end, McIlvain’s response was exactly what one would expect from a defending champion.
The Mustangs’ senior sank her seven-foot birdie putt to wrap up a round of 76, edging Taylor by a single shot for her second straight county title.
“The crazy thing is that throughout the round today I wasn’t making many putts, so to make the one that really mattered meant so much,” McIlvain said. “More than anything, I proved to myself I can come through with the big shot when I need to.”
Marriotts Ridge senior Faith McIlvain talks about her one-shot victory at the Howard County golf championship tournament on Oct. 15, 2019.
While McIlvain’s championship was a return to the top, the boys title race turned into a tale of redemption.
Last fall, Glenelg’s Caleb Taylor ended up falling just short of the crown in a sudden-death playoff against Marriotts Ridge’s Justin Allen. This year, as a junior, Taylor made a par on his final hole to post a round of 74 and win that elusive title by one shot during regulation.
“I was playing with a chip on my shoulder this year, I didn’t want to have to go through that hurt again,” Taylor said. “I think the extra motivation definitely helped me kind of stay focused.”
Glenelg junior Caleb Taylor talks about his one shot victory at the Howard County championship golf tournament on Oct. 15, 2019.
Taylor finished one ahead of Marriotts Ridge’s Josh Lee (75) and two in front of River Hill’s Cam Deiuliis (76), who won the District V Championship last week at Crofton Country Club. It’s the second career postseason title for Taylor, building on his 2018 District V Championship.
McIlvain delivers in clutch
While the final putt is what sealed the victory for McIlvain, in the grand scheme of things she ended up needing every one of the quality shots she hit over the final seven holes.
After a bogey on her 11th hole to drop her back to 5-over at the time, McIlvain recovered to shoot one-under the rest of the way.
Taylor, though, simply never went away en route to the best postseason round of her career. The Eagles’ senior made a birdie on her 12th hole to temporarily grab the lead by one and then bounced back from a double bogey on the next hole to play her final five in one-under.
Knowing she needed a birdie on the last to have any chance, Taylor delivered two clutch shots. Ultimately, it just was one shot short.
“The difference of one shot is always tough, but I’m not really upset. I know that I left everything I had out there and I did exactly what I set out to do — I made Faith have to keep hitting good shots until the very end,” Taylor said. “To be able to be in contention until literally that last putt felt really good and I was proud of myself for that.”
McIlvain said that playing with Taylor pushed her to pull herself together after a rough middle of the round that included one stretch of four bogeys in six holes.
“Playing with Morgan was a lot of fun. We were both competitive with each other, but we were still friendly and keeping each other positive,” McIlvain said. “It was really close, but I think we were both just hitting really good shots and we both knew the pressure.”
Behind the top two, Marriotts Ridge’s Alana Alexander-Giles (80), Howard’s Logan Lurie (83) and Glenelg’s Ally Abruscato (93) rounded out the top five.
Taylor takes care of unfinished business
Like the girls, the race for the boys individual county championship was decided on the final hole.
Only Taylor, who made a clutch par putt on the par 5 18th, wasn’t in the same group as runner-up Lee from Marriotts Ridge. In fact, there was a little disappointment on the face of Taylor as he walked off the final green.
“I didn’t know if it was going to be enough and I felt like I had left a few more shots out there than I would have liked. So there was definitely some relief when I heard that I had actually won,” he said.
Over the course of the afternoon, several different players had taken turns in the lead. Atholton’s Cam Campbell was at one-under on his front nine, Lee had the lead at even par early in his back nine and Centennial’s Dustin Stocksdale used a couple back-nine birdies to temporarily get to even par with just a handful of holes left.
The difference in the end was steady play and Taylor simply had a little bit more of that than his competitors.
“My motto in general is just to play boring golf, so even if I don’t have a lot of birdies and I’m just making pars … I’m liking how I’m playing,” Taylor said. “Today was just another one of those days, grind it out.”
While Taylor’s spot near the top of the leaderboard was somewhat expected, Lee almost came out of nowhere to steal the title. He was playing out of the fourth boys group and ended up shooting the lowest competitive round of his life — two shots better than a round of 77 he shot in a Middle Atlantic PGA tour event.
He was not one of the Mustangs’ players at the District V event last week.
“Knowing this was my last tournament gave me a lot of motivation and my whole goal was just to finish out my high school career strong,” Lee said. “The funny thing is that I had a really bad round yesterday in a match against Winters Mill, but I just kind of told myself that I had gotten my worst round of the season out of the way so why not now go have my best.”
Lee ended up making two straight pars to close his round to finish alone in second place. Deiuliis, Stocksdale (77) and Atholton’s Branden Nguyen (77) rounded out the top five individuals for the boys.