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Navajo Trail Open: Wil Collins birdies final hole to win

June 20, 2016 GMT

After 53 holes, two Albuquerque PGA professionals and good friends were all alone at the top of the leaderboard, and the 2016 Navajo Trail Open title came down to the final hole.

In the teacher-pupil, mentor-young gun battle between Wil Collins and Sam Saunders, the mentor came out on top in the end.

After watching Saunders claw his way into a tie after being three shots back at one point, Collins drained a 12-footer for birdie on the last hole of the tournament to shoot to best his buddy by a shot and claim the title at the 55th Navajo Trail Open. He finished the three-day tournament at 9-under after a final round 68.

“I just hit it better and better every day,” Collins said. “You have to be careful out there because any putt from above the hole can cause major problems. I had some good chances to extend the lead, but they were all from above the hole.”

Collins was a shot ahead of Saunders to begin the final round and got off to a fast start Sunday with a chip-in on the first hole.

However, Saunders wouldn’t go away.

The former University of New Mexico player poured in par after par. Methodically, Saunders gained a stroke here and a stroke there during his bogey-free final round of 68. Finally, down the stretch, his putter caught fire.

Saunders made a 25-foot, left-to-right slider from the back of the 14th green to cut the deficit to one, while Collins was struggling to get putts to fall.

After tour caliber par saves on 15 and 16, Saunders had a 30-footer on 17 to tie it and walked the putt into the bottom of the cup.

“The putt on 17 was huge for me,” Saunders said. “I didn’t hit it as well as I did the other days, but I putted as good as I could have on the back nine. I’m proud of myself for staying in there with Wil. He’s so level-headed and such a good player.”

Collins had plenty of opportunities to extend his lead on the back nine, but couldn’t get putts to drop.

After a center-cut drive on the finishing hole, and a short iron that just caught the left portion of the green, Collins had a 12-footer to win.

“I didn’t really hit a good shot up there, so I felt like I got a good break for it to stay where it did,” Collins said. “I said, ‘Well, that was a good break hopefully I can get it to go in’, and it did.”

With the win, Collins takes home the trophy and $5,500 in prize money.

Before leaving, the champion vowed to come back next year and defend his title.

“This was my first professional tournament back in 2002,” he said. “I have family here, and the staff has done such a great job with this course, so this is a tournament that’ll always be special to me.”

jfries@durangoherald.com