Williams tops Bambic for third Herald-Sun Golf Classic title

Ronnie Williams Jr. celebrates after sinking a birdie putt on hole No. 13 at Durham’s Hillandale Golf Course during the Herald-Sun Golf Classic final on Sunday June 25, 2017, .
Ronnie Williams Jr. celebrates after sinking a birdie putt on hole No. 13 at Durham’s Hillandale Golf Course during the Herald-Sun Golf Classic final on Sunday June 25, 2017, .

Winning two Herald-Sun Golf Classic championships earlier this decade established Hillsborough’s Ronnie Williams, Jr., among the best players to compete in the event, which started in 1940.

Having aged into his 40s, Williams admitted not being sure a third title would come.

On Sunday, after he defeated his good friend Bill Bambic, 4 and 3, for the tournament championship at Hillandale Golf Course, Williams’ emotions bubbled up as he fought tears.

“I didn’t know if it was possible,” Williams said with tears in his eyes, “When I won in ‘10 and ‘12, when you get to 40 you’re like, well, you don’t know if you can do it. These kids are getting younger and younger.”

Williams joins two other players as the only three-time Herald-Sun Golf Classic winners in tournament history. Clarence Alexander won the tournament in 1951, 1952 and 1961. In this century, Matthew Kilgo reeled off three consecutive championships from 2000-02.

On Sunday, Williams won four of the first five holes in the match play final to take a stranglehold on his head-to-head matchup with Bambic. After Bambic closed within two holes after 12, Williams sank a birdie putt to claim the 13th hole and an eagle putt on 14 to pull away again.

He punctuated both successful putts with celebratory fist pumps. When he assured himself of a par on hole 15, meaning Bambic couldn’t win the hole, the match was over as he had a four- hole lead with three to play.

“I didn’t play my best today and if it was against anybody but Ronnie I’d be really bummed about it,” Bambic said. “I think the story of the week is about how great Ronnie played. He was dominant from start to finish. All the props go to him. He’s like a brother and a mentor to me. I’m so proud of him.”

Williams dominated Hillandale and the Herald-Sun Golf Classic field all week. He won the medalist for the two-day qualifying play Monday and Tuesday.

Once match play began on Thursday, Williams so blitzed his younger competition that he never had to play the 16th hole in match play.

“He isn’t going anywhere,” Bambic said. “He’s got a lot of great golf left in him. He was without a doubt the best golfer out there this week. The story off the day and the week is Ronnie Williams.”

On Sunday, Williams won the first two holes and never trailed. Bambic two-putted for a bogey on the par-4 first hole while Williams scored a par by sinking a five-foot putt.

After his shot from the fairway on the second hole landed near the bunker, Williams chipped to the green and sank a birdie putt to take a two-hole lead. Meanwhile Bambic’s birdie putt lipped out and he was left with par.

The golfers tied hole 3 before Williams won the next two holes to lead 4-up after five holes.

“I was very comfortable early on,” Williams said. “I went four up after five and that was huge. Then I was just trying to maintain. Maybe if I could just pick one up here or there, I could really put it away.”

Instead, the golfers halved the final four holes of the front nine and made the turn with Williams still holding a 4-up lead.

On the back nine, Bambic put some pressure on Williams, who missed a par putt for a bogey on No. 10 that gave Bambic his first hole win of the day.

Bambic had a chance to win 11 when Williams needed a nifty chip to get within two feet of the hole to sink a par putt. But Bambic two-putted for par and they halved the hole.

On 12, Williams sent his tee shot left and out of bounds allowing Bambic to win the hole with a par.

But, still holding a 2-up lead, Williams got hot with his birdie on 13 and eagle on 14 to pull away for the win.

Steve Wiseman: 919-419-6671, @stevewisemanNC