Meyer rallies late to capture Pearl Open
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
Hilo's Greg Meyer careened from a benign front nine to a bizarre back nine to a one-stroke victory in the 25th annual Hawai'i Pearl Open yesterday. Meyer's third Pearl title but first in 15 years involved a little of all golfers love and hate about their game.
Advertiser library photo April 18, 1999
"When I got behind I played more aggressive and attacked more. That's more my style nowadays," Greg Meyer said.
Advertiser library photo April 18, 1999
After parring the first nine holes, Meyer led by two over 26-year-old Japan pro Hiroyuki Naito, whose trick shot from a railroad tie on the seventh hole led to birdie and cut a stroke off his deficit. Utah pro Steve Schneiter played the front in 2-over and trailed by five.
Then it got weird. Meyer, whose mild manner and meticulous game was good for 68 and 67 to open the tournament, suddenly lost it. An unplayable lie and pair of three-putts led to double bogeys on the 10th and 13th. He played the first four holes on the back in 5-over, also bogeying the par-5 12th, and parachuted from first to third, three behind Naito and one back of Schneiter.
"Three shots behind with five holes left, I still thought I had a chance to come back if I could hang in there," Meyer said. "If I can make double bogey, so can they."
Meyer got one back with a 7-foot birdie putt on the 14th and another when Naito bogeyed the 16th.
At the par-5 17th, Naito went from leader to footnote with par.
While Naito missed hitting the green in two from 150 yards, Meyer sent his second shot to the center of the putting surface. Meanwhile, Schneiter lost his drive so far right he had to take his bag off the cart and carry it into the trees. He punched his second shot in front of a hedge left of the green, punched that just in front, then drained a 40-foot-plus birdie putt to momentarily tie Naito for the lead at 6-under.
Honolulu's Michelle Wie, 13 the only female in the field shot 77224 and tied for 43rd place.
That lasted as long as it took Meyer to survey his 40-foot eagle putt, which he sent into the hole to get back to 7-under for a one-stroke lead.
The only man on the leaderboard with Hawai'i ties nearly let it get away on the final hole, leaving the gallery silent with a shocking second shot, then giving it life again with a brilliant third.
Schneiter stuck his approach 7 feet left of the pin. Meyer hit his sand wedge next, from a few yards closer but out of a bad lie. A chunk of grass flew and the ball only made it halfway up the hill.
"I was shocked," Schneiter said.
He would be shocked at least once more. After Naito hit his second shot to the green, Meyer trudged up the hill, took a look at the green and went back to chip his blind third shot the ball coming to rest 4 feet from the pin.
Naito missed his long birdie putt and Schneiter missed his short one, playing too much break downhill.
"I knew what I had to do, I had to make birdie," Schneiter said. "That putt, I don't know. It was fast and just got away."
Meyer, who had gone from favorite to longshot to leader and nearly back to the pack in the space of 3 hours, sent his winning par putt into the heart of the cup.
"I couldn't make any mistakes coming in," Meyer said. "I'd made too many on 10 and 13. ... Being ahead by three that kind of changed my plan. I really don't like to play safe. When I got behind I played more aggressive and attacked more. That's more my style nowadays."
Meyer, a former head pro at Pearl, closed with a 2-over 74 and a three-day total of 7-under 209. His prize was a $12,000 check and two tickets to Japan, which he will use in a month when he returns for another year on the Japan Golf Tour Organization. Meyer was 47th on the money list last year and is shooting for Top 10 this year. He needs it. Wife Akiko is six weeks pregnant with their first child.
Schneiter and Naito shot identical rounds for the third straight day, sandwiching a second-round 66 with 72s. Schneiter has played this tournament the last 14 years and also has played on the Nike Tour and in some PGA events. He lives in Utah where his family owns a course in Sandy and has been involved in the golf business for nearly 100 years.
Punahou eighth-grader Michelle Wie, the only female in the field, tied for 43rd at 77-224. She characterized her final round as "horrible," with a series of missed approach shots and short putts.
SHORT PUTTS: Norman-Ganin Asao (73-218) was low amateur and tied for 20th. ... Defending champion Kiyoshi Murota (73-212) tied for fourth. ... Former champions Kevin Hayashi (72) and Jeff Cook (78) tied for 14th at 217.