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History

Pillar Captures Open in Playoff

YORK, Pa. - John Pillar, Sr. was in contention all week at the Allegheny Health Network 98th Open Championship at the Country Club of York. But other than a brief lead on the opening morning, he was never alone atop the leaderboard. That remained true for the final round as well, as Pillar trailed Robert Rohanna most of the day. But Pillar played well enough to get into a three-way playoff with a pair of past champions of the event in Rohanna and Wexford's Mike Van Sickle, and on the 55th and deciding hole of the championship, he finally rose to the top, making birdie to win his first Open championship. Pillar won with a total of 2-under-par 208 for the championship.

"I'm thrilled. I'm over the moon right now," said Pillar, the Director of Golf at the Country Club of Woodloch Springs, who collected the $8000 first place prize for winning the championship. "It's hard to explain, but I had a really good feeling coming into this event, and a belief that good things would come if I just stayed patient, and that's what happened."

Pillar and Rohanna were joined in the playoff by Van Sickle, the 2007 and 2008 champion of the event, who shot 65, the low round of the championship, to force his way into contention. Playing the 18th hole, all three players hit the fairway off the tee. From the right side of the fairway, Rohanna's approach hit to the right of the hole before spinning left across the green to just inside 10 feet of the pin. Pillar was up next, and from the middle of the fairway, his gap wedge hit pin high just right of the flag, released and ended up about two feet away. Van Sickle, playing from just ahead of Pillar in the fairway, hit his wedge a couple feet short of the hole, where it skipped ahead to just inches away but then spun off the green.

Playing from about 18 feet away off the fringe, Van Sickle knew by looking at the opposition that he'd have to try to make the shot. But he hit his chip past the hole and missed the par putt, effectively eliminating his chances of winning. Rohanna was up next, and his putt was just a bit short and leaked off the right side, setting the stage for Pillar. He calmly stepped up and knocked in the putt to win.

"I couldn't tell how close my approach was until I got up there," Pillar said of the playoff hole. "And then I walked up and realized it was almost gimme range."

Rohanna, meanwhile, was left to wonder what might have been. The only player to shoot par or better in each round, he made early birdies on holes 2 and 6, and that, combined with a slow start for second round leader Nelson Hargrove, vaulted Rohanna into the lead. After another birdie at the par-5 14th hole, he had a three-shot lead on Pillar and Van Sickle with four holes to go. But a bogey on 16 and a double-bogey on 17 brought him back to the field, forcing the playoff to decide the champion.

"I played really well today," said Rohanna, the 2010 champion of the event and a professional from Waynesburg. "I hit one bad shot today, but overall I played really steady all three days. I'm pretty happy other than the final result."

For Van Sickle, a third Open championship looked like a long shot at the beginning of the day, as he trailed the lead by seven shots. But with five birdies in his first 14 holes, he had moved up the leaderboard and sensed an opportunity. On the 16th hole, the momentum was officially on his side. From 108 yards out, a pitching wedge lofted 20 feet past the hole.

"There was no reaction from anyone when that hit the green," Van Sickle said. "A few seconds, still no reaction, and then all hell broke loose and someone yelled that it went in."

The eagle moved Van Sickle to -5 for the day and -2 overall, and after pars at 17 and 18, he was in the clubhouse. But before the playoff was official, Pillar and Rohanna, playing in the same group, each had a chance to win in regulation. On the 18th hole, Pillar (10 feet) and Rohanna (20 feet) both had looks at birdie, but neither could convert, setting the stage for the playoff.

The honor of low amateur went to Milford's Cody Cox, who followed up his opening rounds of 70 and 73 with another even par 70 in the final round for a three-round total of 213 (+3).

"I came in to this week with the goal of being low amateur," Cox said. "I thought it was possible with the way I've been playing, and I played pretty solid all week.

The rising sophomore at Penn State was steady all day, with 16 pars, one bogey and one birdie in the round.

Hargrove, who held at least a share of the lead in each of the first two rounds, saw his chances slip away after a 39 on the front nine that dropped him to even par overall. He finished with a 75 to place fifth overall at +1. Pittsburgh's Kevin Shields made some noise early in the round with a few red numbers to get to -2 overall before dropping a pair of shots on the back nine. He finished in fourth at even par overall.

For Pillar, the sweet victory was made even more memorable as his youngest son, Alex, was on the bag for the week.

"The whole week was interesting. I got off to a great start in the first round and then struggled through yesterday in tough conditions. Today I just thought if I played the golf course then everything else would take its place," Pillar said. "Robert played a spectacular round of golf until the 16th and 17th, which opened up the opportunity for Mike and I, and fortunately I was able to take advantage."

The Pennsylvania Golf Association would like to thank the staff and membership of the Country Club of York for a fantastic week at an outstanding golf club.

Also, thanks for Allegheny Health Network, Corporate Partner of the Pennsylvania Golf Association, for supporting the Open Championship.

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