Greens’ speed foils Spector’s late charge

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OAKLAND – Toby Spector’s knees buckled. He nearly fell to his knees, bent backwards in a pose familiar to golfers.

His ball, seemingly destined to drop perfectly into the bottom of the hole, circled the edge of the cup and popped back out, rolling a few inches back in the direction from which it came.

He groaned.

The gathered crowd groaned.

It was a familiar scene at Waterville Country Club on Thursday.

“The greens were a little quicker this afternoon than they had been all week,” Spector surmised. “It was just faster by enough where the balls would lip out instead of fall in.”

That had to be it.

And it was a fate which befell not just Spector, but most of the contenders.

Spector, who played in a group with Mark Plummer and Ricky Jones, saw it happen all day. Jones saw three of his putts hit the lip and not fall. Plummer had a pair on the back nine, and Spector cringed four times – three times in the final six holes – as his ball came precariously close to rattling into the cup.

“I hit some good putts, but they just didn’t go in,” Plummer said. “(The placements) were on the sides of hills a lot. You have to be right in the middle or they won’t go in, the angle the ball is coming in.”

Spector’s misses ended up being particularly painful, too. He finished the day by nearly holing out for eagle on the 18th hole. His ball didn’t lip out there, but it came close. His tap-in birdie put him one back of champion Eric Higgins.

“That’s golf,” Spector said with a shrug.

Higgins also missed his share of putts down the stretch. The difference, though, was that Higgins already had the lead, and he wasn’t missing par putts.

“I was thinking, I’ve got to make birdie one of these times,” Higgins said. “(Playing partner Joe Alvarez) was striking the ball really well, fairways and greens, and that’s what you’ve got to do out here, and I figured sooner or later he’d make one.”

Alvarez never did. He took a chance at the par-3 16th and made a bogey. Higgins followed his one hiccup at the 13th with a birdie on the 15th. From there, he two-putted each green on the way in to post a 1-under-par 69 to hold off Spector.

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