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Golf: Blackburn wins Rock River Classic

STERLING – If home-course advantage had an entry in the dictionary, then Emerald Hill's Rock River team would be found underneath it.

After Saruday's round at Sunset Country Club, Sunset led Prophet Hills by 11 points and Emerald Hill by 17 in the best-against-bogey format tournament.

The tide turned on Sunday, as the tournament traveled to Emerald Hill for the second round. Emerald Hill racked up a +40 to finish the two-day tournament at +61. Sunset finished at +28, and Prophet Hills was third at +21.

Leading the charge for Emerald was Andrew Blackburn, who won the medalist title to complete a summer sweep by winning the Three Rivers tournament in June with Josh Kunde as his partner and the Lincoln Highway in July.

"Being part of a winning team is amazing," said Blackburn. "This is the first time I've been on a winning team since I have been playing, and the atmosphere that we created was fun and exciting."

"We just tried to play the best we can," said Sunset's Scott Aken, who finished at +10. "We knew coming over here that the greens were a little bit faster with a lot of slope. Emerald Hill was tough to beat today, obviously. Our guys wanted to be here, we did the best we could, and unfortunately we just didn't get it done."

Sunday's front nine set Emerald aside from Sunset and Prophet Hills, as Emerald Hill fired a +27 to improve the team tally to +48, setting up a 13-point lead over Sunset (+35), and an 18-point lead over Prophet Hills (+30) through 27 holes.

"We knew what we had to do to put ourselves in contention," Kunde said. Kunde shot +12.

"Collectively, we knew where to miss," Emerald Hill's Jeff Sands said, "and to not be above the hole on the greens."

Sands shot a +5.

Heath Warner of Prophet Hills finished 2-strokes behind Blackburn's 145 weekend total. Blackburn and Warner shot +21 and +16, respectively, in the best-against-bogey format.

Warner and Aken were tied for the medalist lead after Saturday, as they both fired an even-par 72 at Sunset, with Blackburn trailing by four strokes. Those 4 strokes were quickly made up with Blackburn firing a 4-under-par 32 on the front nine, while Warner and Aken shot 37 and 39.

Down the stretch both Warner and Blackburn battledt for the top spot, but a few slip-ups from both players set up a thrilling finish.

"Those guys are great golfers," said Aken. "Andrew is a college golfer and knows what he is doing. He birdied four in a row on the front, and that shows how well those guys played."

Trailing by a single stroke on the 15th tee, Warner made a crucial mistake, as a bad tee shot led to a triple bogey, while Blackburn made par to increase his lead to 4 strokes.

Warner gained a stroke on 17. On the final hole of the tournament, Blackburn stepped up to the tee and hit an errant tee shot that ended up a few feet from going out of bounds. This saved him a 2-stroke penalty, and he went on to par the hole. A birdie from Warner cut the lead to two, but it was too late.

"I made one bad swing today," Warner said. "A real bad 5-iron off the tee cost me the golf tournament. If was out of bounds there on 18, it might have been a different story. But take nothing away from it, he earned it by playing well all day."

"My summer has been a dream," Blackburn said. "Golf is a funny game in many ways, but the home-course advantage in golf is absolutely key. Especially on the second day of the tournament in pressure situations."

Despite not winning medalist, Warner took home the best-against-bogey individual crown, edging out Lake Erie's Callen Smith by 3 strokes.

"I'm excited about it," said Warner, "especially with getting older and not being able to play as much. I just don't have the time, so getting runner-up medalist and winning best-against-bogey, I'm pretty satisfied."

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