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Lamb goes from Monday qualifier to Sunday champ at Peek’n Peak

CLYMER – The Tour is all about catching fire for 72 holes. Do that, and dreams can be made.

In Rick Lamb’s case, however, it took 92 holes.

The 25-year-old from St. Simons Island, Ga., authored the ultimate Cinderella story Sunday in the Tour’s LECOM Health Challenge, going from Monday qualifier to champion.

Lamb shot a course-record 9-under-par 63 on Peek’n Peak’s Upper Course, getting him into a four-man playoff along with local favorite Dominic Bozzelli, Rhein Gibson and Cheng Tsung Pan. Lamb prevailed on the second sudden-death playoff hole with a birdie on the par-5 18th.

“It hasn’t set in yet,” he said of the win, which increased his earnings this season from $0 to $108,000. “Everything’s happened so quick. It’s just one of those days where everything went my way and it couldn’t have turned out any better.”

Lamb came into the event having played in just two Tour tournaments this season, missing the cut in both. In two starts on the PGA Tour LatinoAmerica, he’s made one cut, pocketing $5,075.

That made Lamb the type of underdog Vegas wouldn’t even put odds on.

“It’s completely life changing,” he said. “It takes me from having conditional status to now I have champion’s status. The money, getting me in the top 25 on the money list, it kind of sets me up for the last final stretch here to play well and potentially get a card.”

Lamb is referring to a PGA Tour card, which is awarded to the top 25 finishers on the money list at the end of the regular season. Lamb is now No. 21 on that list, so in the course of one afternoon, he went from grinding it out as a professional to being on the cusp of joining the best players in the world.

Lamb made it happen with a sublime back nine during regulation, going birdie, birdie, eagle, birdie, par, birdie from No. 10 to No. 15. He shot 30 on the back nine.

“I figured I had to shoot at least 7- or 8-under,” said Lamb, who started the round at 10-under in a tie for 14th place. “I wasn’t really thinking about it until I got to the back nine. I got off to a pretty good start, shot 3-under on the front and missed a couple putts that I probably could have made.

“Then I just got off to a real hot start on the back. That was when I kind of realized, ‘hey, I’ve got a chance here.’ Just kept plugging away, trying to make more birdies.”

After Lamb posted 19-under, he had to play an excruciating waiting game. The lead groups were about 45 minutes behind, and three players all had a chance to match or beat Lamb’s score.

“I thought someone might come in at 20-under,” he said. “I just tried to sort of stay in it mentally in case there was a playoff. I tried to stay loose by hitting some balls and hitting some chips. I figured I had a chance.”

Lamb’s total was first matched by Bozzelli, the Pittsford native who had a large cheering section all week. A bogey on the 14th hole dropped him to 17-under and seemingly out of contention, but he birdied the par-4 16th, then reached the green in two on No. 18. His eagle putt, however, came up about 8 feet short. No worries. He calmly drained the putt to get to 19-under.

“Just having that support and having all those people out there, they were willing me to the finish,” Bozzelli said. “I just couldn’t get it done, but it was a fun week and a lot of positives to take from it.”

Gibson, the 54-hole leader, was next to reach 19-under. He did so by making birdies at the 16th and 18th holes.

Then it was Pan’s turn. He had a chip shot from behind the green on No. 18 that could have won it, but left that shot about four feet away. He calmly sank that downhill putt to set up the four-man playoff. Among the participants, only Pan had been part of a playoff before, winning his only opportunity.

“That was pretty cool – and intimidating at the same time,” Gibson said. “I was pretty happy to pull out No. 1, have the tee box and have the honor. Just get up and whale on one.”

Playing the 18th, each player made par on the first extra hole. Gibson had the best chance to win it, running his birdie attempt just inches past the hole.

“I read it just a little bit to the right,” he said. “I hit it perfectly. Perfect pace to die in the hole and it just stayed there.”

After hitting his second shot in the hazard, Bozzelli chipped to the bunker behind the hole on the first playoff hole and again drained a clutch par putt to stay alive.

“Those were pretty sweet,” he said of his putts at the end of regulation and the first playoff hole. “It got pretty loud over there. It’s just really good experience and next time I’m in that situation I’ll be that much more comfortable.”

Bozzelli’s chances of winning were basically extinguished when he lost his tee shot left on the second playoff hole, forcing him to take a drop and hit his third from the tee box.

Gibson and Pan laid up, while Lamb went over the green in two.

Put a slick, downhill chip shot close, and Lamb knew he would have an excellent chance to win, or at the very least extend the playoff. Except he didn’t do it.

His chip shot traveled just a few yards and hung up in the rough above the hole. With so much riding on the outcome, it would have been an easy time to lose composure, right?

“There’s no time for that,” Lamb said. “You’ve got to step up and hit it. I mean, you’re not out of it until you’re out of it. It was a little frustrating, but it’s just part of our game. You’ve got to go and hit the next shot from wherever you hit it.”

So Lamb did just that, draining his next chip for birdie.

“In regulation, the kid I was playing with … had that putt above the hole, so I kind of knew what it did,” he said. “It was going to be quick. I figured I had to make it because I thought Pan was probably going to make his putt. Rhein had a pretty good look at it to up the hill, too, so I figured I had to go for it and knock it in.”

After Lamb’s chip dropped, he watched Pan and Gibson miss birdie attempts, making him the first Monday qualifier to win on the Tour since Sebastian Cappelen in 2014.

That meant Lamb could go ahead and cancel his flight from Cleveland to St. Louis, from which he was going to drive to the next Monday qualifier. That’s no longer necessary, so instead he got a ride with his dad to their hometown of South Bend, Ind.

“I didn’t really put any pressure on myself at all today,” Lamb said. “I kind of got out of my own way and everything just kind of went my way. Hit it great and made the putts I needed to make. It’s an unbelievable day.”