ORADELL, N.J. (AP) — With amateur Benjamin Smith holding a big lead heading into the final round of the $75,000 New Jersey Open, Frank Esposito set his sights on taking home the $15,000 check awarded to the low professional.
The 50-year-old head pro at Brooklake in Florham Park not only got the check, he got the trophy, too.
Esposito overcame a five-shot deficit and captured his second New Jersey Open title by shooting a bogey-free 4-under 67 Thursday for a one-shot victory over former PGA Tour pro Jim McGovern.
"It feels pretty good. It feels really good. I played nicely," Esposito said after ending a 14-year drought between state Open titles. "I didn't make any bogeys today. I didn't make my first birdie until No. 9. I was around the hole but nothing went in. I was patient and made a couple of birdies and some really good up and downs and a couple of great two-putts. It was a nice walk in the park."
Esposito nailed down the title by rolling a 40-foot birdie putt on the final hole at Hackensack Golf Club to within a foot, finishing with a 54-hole total of 7-under 206.
McGovern, who grew up about 650 yards from the clubhouse, had a final-round 68 and finished a shot ahead of Sam Kang, who also closed with a 68.
McGovern, who played on the PGA Tour from 1991-98 and won the Houston Open in '93, had the biggest gallery. He gave them plenty to cheer about with four straight birdies on Nos. 10-13. When Smith bogeyed No. 14, he had a one-shot lead over Esposito and Smith.
"I have no complaints," said McGovern, who parred his final four holes. "You never know what is going to happen in this game. I played good, had a good week. I started to make a couple (of putts), it's just one of those things. I played well. I put a lot of pressure on myself and it was fun having everyone out here. It was nice."
Esposito tied for the lead with a birdie at the par-5, No. 15 and grabbed sole possession of it with a 12-to-15-foot birdie at the par-3, No. 17.
"It was a nice 8-iron and it was right to left," Esposito said. "It was just a perfect shot. I hit a nice shot and made a really nice putt."
Smith, who was trying to become the first amateur to win consecutive New Jersey Open years, had a four-shot lead over Graham Dendler heading into the final round. However, he bogeyed two of his first three holes and never got his game going, shooting a 75 to finish fourth, three shots behind the winner.
"Overall I am happy with the week," said the 26-year-old Smith of Voorhees. "If you asked me whether 4-under, 'Would you take it?' I would have taken 4-under and saw where I stood. I am satisfied. It was a good run in trying to defend. There are always other tournaments."
Dendler of Trenton Country Club fell out of contention early and finished far back after a 79.
Brett Jones, who won this event in 2009, rounded out the top five, finishing at 3-under after a closing 1-under 70.