COOL IN THE CLUTCH
The wheels never came completely off, but they were wobbly for most of the day.
Justin Keiley wasn’t in full panic mode, but he did not have a fun day on the links.
The final round of the 79th-annual Rocky Mountain Open was filled with drama on a day when it was not expected.
Keiley had ripped through the Tiara Rado Golf Course over the first two days, posting a 14-under par score of 128.
After his bogey free rounds got him a 68 and 65, his eight-shot lead looked as secure as a bank vault.
But this is golf, where anything can happen and nearly did.
Keiley struggled to a final day 1-under-par 70, but it was enough to hold on for a two-stroke victory at 198 over Taylor Montgomery and Ryan Wallen on Sunday.
“I really wasn’t hitting it that well, so I was scrapping around all day,” Keiley said. “It was uncomfortable for me because I wasn’t playing my best.”
Keiley didn’t have any fun until he saw his birdie putt disappear into the cup on 17. Then he could relax with that two-shot lead with one hole to play.
He was 1-over with six holes to play, but managed a pair of birdies down the stretch.
“I just told myself to man-up and get it done, but it was pretty hard all day.”
Then he pointed to the 18th green where he just finished with a par putt.
“It was very stressful the whole day, stressful from the time I teed off to right there,” he said.
Adding to Keiley’s stress was watching the posted scores of Montgomery and Wallen throughout the day and seeing that they were getting closer after virtually every hole.
Montgomery and Wallen played together along with Monte Montgomery, Taylor’s dad. And the threesome was blazing hot all day.
Wallen shot 63, Taylor Montgomery 64, and Monte 67.
Taylor Montgomery started eight shots back and really didn’t think about chasing Keiley.
“What I’ve learned, is if I’m worried about the other players, I don’t play very well, so I just told myself to worry about my own score and play the best I can,” he said.
Monte Montgomery, who won a state golf title when he was at Grand Junction High School, is a three-time winner of the RMO and finished at 204, good for eighth place.
With family still in Grand Junction, the Montgomerys, who now live in Las Vegas, come back every summer for a little vacation and some golf at the Rocky Mountain Open.
Taylor graduated from UNLV in the spring and was playing his first RMO in the professional division. He said it would be fun to someday add his name to the list of champions along with his dad.
“It would definitely be nice, I mean I hate to lose,” he said with a smile.
Wallen started the day nine shots back, and after a tough opening round of 71, he allowed himself to think that a comeback was possible on Sunday.
“I just didn’t play great the first day but to shoot 63 today was pretty cool,” he said. “I thought maybe 62 would give me a chance.
“You just have to go get it, you’re not playing for sixth or eighth, you’re just looking at the top and our whole group was making birdies early and there was some good vibes.”
Wallen, who graduated from the University of Wyoming in the spring, had never played the Rocky Mountain Open before. He’s now a graduate assistant with Wyoming and decided to come down with some of Wyoming’s current players.
That included Glenn Workman, who finished at 205 to win the amateur division by a stroke.
Colorado Mesa player Grant Olinger had the low amateur round of the day at 65, and that pulled him into a three-way tie for second at 206, which included Workman’s teammate Quintin Pope.
Also in second was 16-year-old Dillon Stewart, who started the tournament with a round of 64.
The Fossil Ridge High School (Fort Collins) junior was invited to play in the tournament by some golfing buddies who are on the CMU team.
“It was good, I wish I could have finished a little better, too many mistakes on the last nine,” he said.
For Keiley, 24, the plan was to play the same way he’d played the first two rounds, but after the first few holes, which included some tee shots dangerously close to landing out of bounds, he had to adjust. That prompted him to be conservative on some of the holes.
But the birdie on 17 took the pressure off.
“It was big. I knew those guys finished at 13 (under),” he said. “Then, I knew I just needed a 5 at the worst (on 18) to win.”
After going for the par 4 18th green off the tee, like many in the tournament, on the first two days, Keiley took out an iron and played it safe.
Even with the frustration of the final day, Keiley was satisfied that he scrambled to a 70 to hang on for the victory.
“Some days you’re in rhythm, some days you’re out of rhythm, and when you’re out of rhythm you have to find a way to scrape around the course, and today I could have easily shot one or two over par and lost,” he said. “I made some key putts to get the win, so that was good.”
Keiley, a Brigham Young University graduate who now lives in Haiku, Hawaii, picked up $10,000 for the win.