Return of the king

First Posted: 7/20/2014

LUMBERTON — Even in his early years, Kyle Covington never tried to overthink the county championship tournament, but when his job took him to Pinehurst No. 2 earlier this summer for the U.S. Open, he caught a bit of a bug.

“It gets your blood flowing,” he said. “Just being around all that golf made me want to play golf.”

It led to several weeks of extra preparation for the Robeson County Golf Championships, sponsored by Dial Insurance.

The payoff came Sunday at Pinecrest Country Club when Covington won the mens championship division for the eighth time. It’s his first win since taking five in a row from 2006 until 2010.

After making his final putt on No. 18, the crowd at the course gave him a round of applause, with one person proclaiming “The champ is back” and another jokingly asking for an autograph.

“It feels good,” Covington said.

Covington stayed consistent in the final round, posting a 2-under-par 70 to finish the weekend at 8-under 208. He avoided a late run by Nick Dial, who took second with a 4-under 212, as well as Jeff Wishart, who took third with a 214.

He stayed in nearly the same scoring range the entire weekend, having posted back-to-back 69s on Friday and Saturday. With a four-stroke lead against Wishart and at least five against the rest of the field, Covington hoped to go lower on the final day.

He didn’t go as low as he’d have liked, but a birdie on No. 1 served as a bit of an early dagger.

“Kyle plays in a different gear when he comes into tournaments,” Wishart said. “He didn’t give me and chance to catch up or put pressure on him. He birdied the first hole so I could never put any pressure on him.”

He finished the front nine at 1-under and put up another 35 on the back, struggling with putting at times.

Asked whether the win meant the beginning of another streak, Covington shrugged.

“I don’t know,” he said. “We’ll see. I’ll just keep hitting the ball.”

Covington’s main competition on the final day came from the group in front of him, where Nick Dial had the best round of the tournament.

Dial, who scored a 73 and a 72 on the first two days, went 4-under before the turn to finish the day at 5-under-par 67.

He said he felt no pressure entering the round, which helped him get off to a start that included chip-ins for birdies on Nos. 5 and 9. By the back nine, Dial said the mental aspect of the game got to him on the back nine, though he kept bogey free for the day.

“Everybody was riding up telling me what I needed to do to win,” he said. “Whenever I finish strong I’m happy with that.”

The second-place finish is the highest Dial’s placed, a jump of nearly 10 spots from last year.

Wishart, who organizes the tournament, finished nearly in line with his first two days, scoring a 72 after having two rounds of 71 to open it.

The only other golfer to hit par for the weekend was former county champion Dyrck Fanning, who dropped eight strokes from Saturday with a 3-under-par 69. He finished the weekend right at 216.

Ryan Bass, who won the tournament in a playoff last year finished in a tie for seventh place with a three-day total of 5-over-par 221.

“I didn’t play my best but I still had fun,” Bass said. “I just wasn’t prepared, I guess is the best way to put it.”

“I didn’t have much confidence in my driving. When you get in the tee box and you don’t know where the ball, it’s not going to be good.”

It still put Bass in a position to represent the county at a tournament later this year.

The top 10 players in the championship division qualified for the restored Highlander Cup tournament in October, a Ryder Cup-style event that will pit Robeson County’s best against the top players from Cumberland County.

The local qualifiers included Covington, Dial, Wishart, Fanning, Bass, Brad Locklear, Mark Kinlaw, Andy Andrews, Mark Lassiter and Steve Pippin.