By JESSE SMITHEY
OAK RIDGE — Championships don’t come without a little luck.
And on Tuesday, First Baptist Academy freshman Ethan Whitaker got the bounce of the tournament just when he needed it most.
Whitaker used the good fortune to outlast Lenoir City senior Jeremy Ellis in a playoff for the individual boys’ title at the 5Star Preps Masters at Oak Ridge Country Club.
Catholic senior Kennedy Anne Noe took the girls individual title. Meanwhile, her Catholic team took the team honors for the first time, and CAK’s boys won the 5Star Preps Masters for a third consecutive year.
But all the drama hovered around the boys’ individual leaderboard.
Heading into the par-3 17th hole on Tuesday, the race for the title featured Whitaker, Ellis and Catholic sophomore Harrison Thompson.
Whitaker hit his tee shot to 2 feet, he said.
Momentum in Whitaker’s corner, right? Nah. Whitaker missed.
Ellis made a routine par to stay tied for the lead, and Thompson bogeyed after hitting into a green side bunker.
On the par-5 18th, Ellis played the hole in textbook fashion; great drive off the elevated tee down to the fairway and a perfectly placed second shot, leaving him a simple pitch up to the elevated green.
Whitaker took a more circuitous route, but he still found the back of the green and had a slippery fast look at birdie.
He took his time and barely struck the ball, but it still rolled 8-10 feet past. He rolled in the comeback putt for par and tied Ellis for a two-day total of 1-under, 143. Both players shot par 72 on Tuesday.
After a lengthy weather delay, Whitaker and Ellis took to the first tee to begin the playoff at roughly 5 p.m.
Ellis, again, found the fairway at the par-4 first and left himself an easy wedge play to the middle of the green.
Whitaker, however, blew his tee shot right of the fairway, where it struck the cart path — leaving his fate to a concrete pathway. Luckily for him, the ball ricocheted off the path and flew over the nearby pond and into the rough. Had it gone in the water, Whitaker would have incurred a penalty stroke and given himself a small probability of tying Ellis’ par on the hole.
But he chopped out of the rough and made par.
On the second playoff hole, another par-4, Whitaker and Ellis had wedges into the green for their second shots. Whitakers fell, pin high, about 15-20 feet away. Ellis struck his shot well but needed another yard to stay on the back-right quadrant of the green near the pin. His ball rolled back down a slope, though, to the front of the green, where he three-putted for bogey.
Whitaker tapped in for an easy par and a victory.
But just because he’s a freshman doesn’t mean Whitaker was shocked to win.
Winning is his only goal every time out and putting his Powell-based school on the map for sports is a priority, too.
“I expect to win every tournament I play in. That’s my mentality. Every tournament I walk into, I want to win it. I’m going to win it,” he said. “(It’s been that way) ever since I’ve been playing golf. Every time I step on a course, I want to win — no matter what.”
On the girls’ side, Noe captured the 2020 5Star Preps Masters with a final-round, 5-over-par 77 that left her with a two-day total of 9-over-153. CAK’s Kate Faulkner finished second at 11-over 155 after a second-round 75.
Allie Cooper (CAK) and Vivian Wang (Farragut) tied for third (163).
“I just kept my head in it the whole day,” said Noe. “I kept staying positive throughout. I just started hitting greens and making two putt. Just moving on. Just playing steady golf.”
“It means a lot. We’re starting off the season great,” added Noe. “We got a team win, too. It’s just a great feeling all around.”
That, the Lady Irish did. The Catholic girls’ team (Noe, Amelia Rechter, Jodie Spangler) unseated two-time defending champion Farragut. The Lady Irish finished at 29-over 317, clipping CAK by one shot and Farragut by six.
The CAK boys trailed Farragut by three shots entering the final round but the Warriors’ 14-over 302 total Tuesday gave them a two-shot victory over Halls (311-305–616) and a 10-shot win over Farragut (309-315–624).
In an unexpected development Tuesday, some 17 girls contestants had to have their Monday scores scrubbed because it was discovered they had accidentally played the wrong tee box during the round.
Still, that didn’t take away from great second-round play Tuesday from the likes of Madilyn Newman (HVA, 75), Gabby Starling (Farragut, 78), Parker Miller (Maryville, 76), Sydney Branson (Bearden, 80), Jodie Spangler (Catholic, 78), Brylee Crouse (Kingston, 84), Maya Hira (Bearden, 82) and Bailey McGaha (Halls, 84).
Newman’s 75 proved the best girls’ round of the day on Tuesday. Newman won the 2018 5Star Preps Masters.
Bearden freshman Jaden Morrell’s 3-under 69 had the best round Tuesday among the boys’ competitors. Morrell is the younger brother of 2018 5Star Preps Masters champion Bryson Morrell (now at UT-Martin).
2020 5STAR PREPS MASTERS
at Oak Ridge CC (Par 72)
Individual Leaderboard (Top 40)
Whitaker (FBA) 71-72–143**
Ellis (Lenoir City) 71-72–143
Thompson (Catholic) 70-74–144
Woody (Kingston) 72-73–145
Johnston (CAK) 73-73–146
Morrell (Bearden) 78-69–147
Roberts (FBA) 75-73–148
Condra (Halls) 78-72–150
Neff (Anderson County) 72-78–150
Hughey (CAK) 81-71–151
Mayes (Webb) 77-75–152
Myers (Webb) 77-75–152
Harville (Farragut) 76-76–152
Brantly (Halls) 76-77–153
Fuller (Catholic) 76-78–154
Queener (Farragut) 80-75–155
Vincent (Halls) 79-76–155
Meadows (CAK) 80-76–156
Batchellor (Halls) 78-80–158
Woodruff (Webb) 77-81–158
Costales (Farragut) 82-78–160
King (Webb) 77-83–160
Johnson (Kingston) 84-77–161
Hayes (Maryville) 85-77–162
Talley (Maryville) 81-81–162
Orr (Maryville) 80-82–162
Rodriguez (CAK) 81-82–163
Jones (Kingston) 84-80–164
I. Jones (W. Blount) 81-86–167
Stephens (Webb) 86-81–167
Reed (Webb) 83-85–168
Jeansonne (Halls) 86-82–168
Graves (W. Blount) 80-88–168
Bacon (Kingston) 83-86–169
Gray (Bearden) 84-87–171
Daniels (Halls) 85-87–172
Roddy (Bearden) 91-82–173
Rhoades (Maryville) 85-91–176
Noe (Catholic) 76-77–153
Faulker (CAK) 79-76–155
Wang (Farragut) 78-85–163
Cooper (CAK) 81-82–163
Taylor (CAK) 82-83–165
Rechter (Catholic) 86-80–166
Ott (Farragut) 84-83–167
Atchley (Maryville) 97-91–188
Forester (CAK) 92-98–190
Settles (Kingston) 98-95–193
Neff (Anderson County) 119-108–227
NOTE: 17 players not listed were disqualified after playing incorrect tees on the 12th hole during Monday’s round.