WASAGAMING -- After a one-year hiatus, Garth Collings put himself back in the spotlight at the Grey Owl golf tournament on Sunday.
Playing through the wind and the rain at the 51st annual tournament, Collings won his ninth Grey Owl championship with a 2-over 74 that provided just enough to hold off Andrew Wilkinson of Winnipeg, who faltered down the stretch and came up short by two strokes in a bid for his first championship.
"I love it coming up here," Collings said. "They've done it for 51 years now and it's a total class act. It's one of the better tournaments that I play and I play in quite a few, and I love it."
Collings, who was unseated as champion last year by Brandon's Jarod Crane, won the tournament with very few mistakes of his own and a couple of critical ones by Wilkinson. He finished the two-round event with a 1-under 143 total, but nothing was for certain until after the 15th hole.
Ahead by two strokes going to the 433-yard 15th, Collings sliced his drive into the trees, had to punch out to safety and was laying three while still being 200 yards out. Collings eventually took a bogey while Wilkinson, who was also in a trouble area to the right of the fairway, recovered nicely and made birdie to pull even.
Collings, however, regrouped on the par-4 16th with a birdie while Wilkinson pushed an eight-foot putt right and settled for par and a one-shot deficit heading to the par-3 17th. There, Wilkinson's putter again let him down: He narrowly missed a late-breaking 20-footer for birdie and then pushed the putt coming back to take a bogey and fall behind two.
"That comes down to experience and I just kept saying to myself, 'Don't worry about what he's doing, just do what you can do,'" Collings said. "... It was unfortunate he rammed his putt by on 17 but, you know what, he's a good player and he was a lot of fun to play with."
Collings said he was unaware of where the scores stood after the 15th hole, but took a walk before teeing off on 16 and gathered his emotions.
"You gotta keep going. It shouldn't really make any difference but I knew that I really had to work hard after," he said. "... I went for a little walk and got my act together and figured out what I was supposed to be doing."
The other two golfers in the foursome, Brandonites Darren Ritchie -- who posted a 69 on Friday -- and Chad Cumming, put themselves out of contention with some struggles early in the round, although both bounced back with solid back nines.
Ritchie, playing in his first ever championship flight, acknowledged that things got away from him on the sixth hole when he toed his tee shot sharply to the right, one hole after relinquishing a one-shot lead over Collings with a bogey on the par-5 fifth.
"When we turned into the wind I thought I struggled a bit and six I obviously lost momentum there and I never really gained it back, but I thought I played better shooting just 1-over on the back, so that was good," said Ritchie, who shot an 80 to finish at 5-over 149 for the tournament. "I was a lot more comfortable on Friday than I was today, but you love to compete in these kinda things. You just want to be a competitor and it was just one of those days where things just didn't go in."
Cumming also shot an 80 and finished at 150. He was derailed with a bogey-triple bogey start to the round, but was a satisfactory 2-over on the back nine.
NOTES: Crane, playing just his third round of the season, shot 78 and finished at 150. ... Doug Piper of Saskatoon was the Greyer Owl champion and the Winnipeg Sun's Mark Hamm won the media event. ... Brandon's Rod Klassen had the low round of the day, shooting 68 to win the second flight. ... Cumming hit the shot of the day on 17 but wasn't really rewarded for it. Cumming landed his tee shot from the elevated tee a few inches past the hole and it was just a hair away from an ace, but rolled back and off the green and Cumming settled for a par.