Thompson hangs on to win West Penn Open
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Dan Thompson found himself in unfamiliar territory Tuesday at the West Penn Open Championship.
Despite winning the event twice previously and holding a five-stroke lead at the start of the day, Thompson couldn't shake the feeling that something was different -- this time, he was the hunted, not the hunter.
Thompson won the West Penn Open in 2007 in a playoff and won in '09 by birdieing the 18th hole.
This year, Thompson won a different way -- fending off amateur Bennett Smith by two strokes at Fox Chapel Golf Club to secure his third West Penn Open title.
"It's not as easy as it looks, playing with a big lead, because you've got a bull's-eye on your back. People are gunning for you," said Thompson of Johnstown. "I actually think it's harder playing with a big lead than playing neck-and-neck with somebody because you really don't know what's going on in front of you."
Smith was in the group ahead of Thompson and nearly snagged first place. Smith shot a 2-under 68 Tuesday, making up four strokes on Thompson, who shot 72.
"I didn't really know what Ben was doing until I got to the first scoreboard and saw that he was putting a good round together," Thompson said. "Once I saw Ben was making a run I knew I had to buckle down and finish strong or he was going to catch me."
Thompson's strong first day Monday helped him hold off Smith and the other golfers. He tied the 18-hole record at the West Penn Open with a 64 and set the 36-hole record with a 9-under 131.
While he did not play as well Tuesday, Thompson did just enough, finishing at 7 under.
"We changed game plans a little bit today, trying to keep it in the middle of the green, and for the most part I did that," he said.
Thompson also had strong competition from third-place finisher Jon Mills and 22-year-old fourth-place finisher John Popeck. Mills finished at 3 under and Popeck at 2 under.
Kevin Shields, 2010 West Penn Open winner, Joe Boros tied for fifth place at even par.
Popeck was paired with Thompson after ending Monday in second place. A quadruple bogey on the eighth hole put Popeck too far behind to make a run.
"That kind of set me back pretty hard," Popeck said. "It happened and I learned from it.
"What I'll take from this in the future is definitely don't get a quadruple bogey in crunch time in the final group. That's number one," he said. "And just staying patient, keeping a cool mind when things go wrong."
Thompson ran into trouble on 16, where he had a double-bogey. Like Popeck, he learned to stay patient.
"I thought that might rattle me a little, but it didn't. I still had a three-shot lead with two to go, so I felt good," he said. "I was calm."
From there, Thompson was able to wrap up his victory.
"Once that putt hit the bottom of the hole, it felt nice," he said. "I'm just so happy that I was able to hold on and win this one again."
First Published July 11, 2012 12:00 am