COLUMBIA, SC — Six months ago, Rohan Allwood never had heard of the Midlands Chevy Dealers Columbia City Golf Championship or seen Spring Valley Country Club — let alone ever imagined he would turn in a stellar performance over two days to capture the event’s professional division in his first try.
Allwood, 38 and a native of Brisbane, Australia, crafted his second straight sub-70 round on Friday, firing a 3-under par 69 to pull away from five-time champion Clem King and Tony Branham.
Allwood, the Woodlands Country Club’s head pro since March and a former mini-tour player, finished at 7-under 137, five shots ahead of King, general manager at the Country Club of Lexington (final-round 72), and eight over Branham, head pro at Cobblestone Park (74).
Not bad for having spent all of 30-40 minutes last Saturday riding around Spring Valley, hitting perhaps two shots. So much for the benefit of local knowledge.
“I played two good rounds, though I hit a few errant shots,” Allwood said. Not many, though; he hit all but two fairways in two days, an accomplishment given Spring Valley’s tight alleys and numerous dogleg holes.
Allwood’s first notion of the City Tournament came two weeks ago when members at Woodlands asked if he was playing. “I had no idea who to contact,” he said. Woodlands’ general manager Ken McCarthy, a fellow Aussie, got him in touch with City Tournament chairman Bobby Foster, who talked him through the entry process.
Allwood took it from there, taking a one-shot lead after Thursday’s 68 and stretching it to four after nine holes despite a double bogey at the sixth, where he hit a rare poor shot out of bounds. He all but clinched it at the par-5 12th, reaching the green in two shots and two-putting for birdie and a five-shot lead when King had to settle for par.
“My philosophy is to hit it to the fat part of the fairway. Then I can be aggressive on my shot to the green,” Allwood said. “If I focus on hitting greens, the rest takes care of itself.”
King, whose most recent title came in 2008, was impressed.
“He’s a very strong player, and he’s obviously played a lot of mini-tour events” before becoming a club pro, King said. “We never put any pressure on him (Friday), but I enjoyed being in the hunt,” with birdies on his final two holes. “It was fun.”
It was fun for Allwood, too, though he joked that he did, indeed, feel pressure.
“I talked to Ken (McCarthy) last night, and he said, ‘Don’t come back without the trophy,’ ” Allwood said, laughing. “He looked at the back wall in my office and said, ‘You’d better have something for that.’ ”
Columbia Country Club head professional Chris Sparrow didn’t contend, but the longtime volunteer with the City Tournament was presented the event’s annual David Bennett Service to Golf Award.
“Bobby (Foster) brought me in 10 years ago and taught me a lot,” Sparrow said. “I hope we keep (the tournament) going.”
While Allwood cruised in the pro division, the day’s best round belonged to Brian Lee, a 40-year-old financial advisor who plays at The Winderemere Club. Lee ran off four straight birdies at Nos. 11-14 en route to a bogey-free, 6-under 66 and a two-shot lead heading into today’s final round.
The Lancaster native credited a hot putter for the difference between Friday and his opening 72. “I probably drove it better (Thursday), but I was able to find the greens today,” he said, after hitting 17 of 18. “And I’ve been able to hit fairways, which out here is a premium.”
Still, it was an errant drive into the trees at the par-4 11th hole — “my worst drive all day” — that jumpstarted Lee’s back nine. The left-hander hit a 166-yard 4-iron recovery shot — “a punch-hook,” he said — to the green, then drained his 20-footer for birdie. A missed 6-footer cost him an eagle at the par-5 12th, but he sank putts from 3 and 12 feet the next two holes.
Lee said he doesn’t play in many tournaments — “if I played any more golf, my wife (Jill) says I’d be single,” he said, laughing — but this event is special, he said.
“I would love to win this title,” he said. “I’m 40, so the clock’s ticking for me. This is my major.”
Lee will have today’s last tee time at 9:40 a.m. — “I’ve always wanted to be in the final group,” he said — along with USC golfer Will Murphy (70-70) and longtime City Tournament contender Tom Kennaday, 45, who finished second by a shot in 2011. Two shots further back at 2-under are Ben Karns (71-71) and Hunter Watkins (70-72).
In the tournament’s Senior Division, two-time defending champion Gus Sylvan (2-under 142) will take a two-shot lead over Jimmy Burgess (even-par 144) into the final round after his 72 on Friday. Buck Leigh’s 2-under 70 (2-over 146) left him four shots ahead of Steve Pachol (150) and five up on Ron Callahan (151) in the Super Senior Division.