Balson wins second straight King of the Hill

Riley Balson's 18th hole Sunday was perfect - drive down the middle, nine-iron to six feet and an eagle putt right in the centre of the cup.

Balson didn't need the three on his scorecard, but it looked pretty good as he wrapped up his second straight King of the Hill title at Eagle Point Golf Course.

The 20-year-old Balson shot 68 on Sunday to win the King of the Hill by three strokes over Mark Gruber. Balson had opened with a 74, leaving him three back of first-round leader Brent Pound, but shot back-to-back 34s on Sunday to surge to the front of the pack.

The 18th hole was the highlight of Balson's round - and he made it look easy.

"I knew Mark was playing well," said Balson, who is a member at Eagle Point and works and plays at Aberdeen Hills, where the King of the Hill originated. "I did what I always do on 18 - I hit the same shots and it worked out."

The last six holes were a bit of an adventure for Balson, a 6-foot-7 lefty who shot 65-70 to lap the field in 2009.

He nearly drove the par-4 13th and settled for birdie after his eagle chip lipped out. He made an incredible par on the par-5 14th, hitting his tee shot out of bounds, incurring a two-stroke penalty, then making an eagle with his second ball.

He couldn't get up-and-down for par on the par-3 15th, birdied the par-4 16th and three-putted the par-4 17th for bogey.

It was a lot to stomach for Balson, and he had a lot of time to do it - the course was backed up the whole way around, and the final group finally got off the course 5-1/2 hours after it teed off.

"It was really slow out there - but that's golf sometimes," said Balson, a former TRU WolfPack golfer. "It's hard to stay focused and stay loose . . . that might have been the reason (for the inconsistent finish) - I was all over the place."

With a plus-2 handicap - that basically means he averages two-under par per game - Balson was a favourite heading into the tournament.

He had a rough start Saturday, shooting a front-nine 39, but was under par the rest of the way.

He does have a built-in excuse for his below average front nine - he did just return from Europe, where he spent two months touring with his girlfriend - but he wasn't using it.

"I've been back . . . it will be two weeks (today)," Balson said. "I've played tons. I've played two rounds a day leading up to this."

Gruber shot 74 in the opening round and, playing in the group in front of the last threesome, fired 71 on Sunday. It would have been good enough only if Balson mangled the 18th hole.

Pound, meanwhile, shot 75 on Sunday. He bogeyed three of his last four holes to fall out of contention.

Norm Romano was the low net champion - the 10-handicap shot 74-79 to finish with a 133 net total.

mhunter@kamloopsnews.ca

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