Monday, July 21, 2014.
It was interesting last week listening to experts predict what kind of a score it was going to take to win the 25th annual Albertsons Boise Open. We heard "25-under" a lot. Well, two golfers finished regulation at 24-under after a pressure-packed final round at Hillcrest Country Club yesterday. Then Steve Wheatcroft dropped in 10-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole to beat Steven Alker and win the championship. With that birdie, hey, let's call it 25-under for Wheatcroft. After taking the lead from Alker with a third-hole eagle putt from over 50 feet away, the former Indiana Hoosier found himself two shots behind Alker with back-to-back bogeys on 12 and 13. Wheatcroft then birdied three of the final five holes to force the playoff.
It's a defining win for the 36-year-old Wheatcroft, who wondered early this summer if his pro career was history. "This is unbelievable. I'm just speechless," said Wheatcroft. "I've been playing so badly this year that I thought I might be done. I lost all belief." His confidence got an immeasurable boost a week ago with a 21st-place result at the Utah Championship. Then came the Albertsons Boise Open, where Wheatcroft finished second to Luke Guthrie in 2012. "There's something about this place," Wheatcroft said. "It started to sink in a few weeks ago that if I didn't start playing better I'd have to find something else to do." The $144,000 check he earned vaulted him all the way from 89th to 11th on the Web.com Tour money list and ensured him of a PGA Tour card next season.
Nampa's Tyler Aldridge, the former Boise State golfer, fell back with an even-par 71 Saturday and finished with a 70 yesterday to tie for 56th. Aldridge's game agreed with the course in the final round, as he parred 15 of the 18 holes. Of course, the rest of the field was not so agreeable with the Hillcrest layout, with 47 players coming in at 10-under or better for the tournament. Aldridge was the only local entry to make the cut and made $2,112.
About all Graham DeLaet can do is take some momentum from the back nine at Royal Liverpool Friday into the final major of the season, the PGA Championship next month. The front nine in the second round of the British Open did him in. The former Boise State star struggled through a five-over 42 during the first half Friday. Despite a gutsy 34 on the back nine, DeLaet fell one stroke short of making the cut as the wind kicked into Open Championship form. "It's just so strong, you have hit the ball so crisp to control the spin and that's what I really just wasn't doing on the front nine," DeLaet said at Canada.com. "Everything is so difficult out there. Even three, four-footers, the ball is oscillating and the wind is moving your body and it's just really tough to hit good, solid putts."
We consider Mountain West Media Days to be the kickoff of football season, and the event begins tomorrow in Las Vegas. The Sun Belt gathering lasts one day—that will be tomorrow in New Orleans—but the conference's preseason coaches' poll is already out. Idaho is picked ninth in the 11-team league as the Vandals return to the circuit for the first time since 2004. The vote was taken before Idaho revealed yesterday that perhaps its best player, wide receiver Dezmon Epps, has been dismissed from the team for a violation of team rules. It's unclear whether Epps' April DUI arrest was the tipping point. The senior standout was the Vandals' leading receiver last year with 79 catches for 980 yards and four touchdowns. It was the most significant no-nonsense decision of coach Paul Petrino's tenure at Idaho.
Louisiana-Lafayette is the solid Sun Belt favorite, garnering all 11 first-place votes in the poll. The Ragin' Cajuns are set to visit the blue turf of Albertsons Stadium on September 20. Of Boise State's six home opponents coming off bowl games, the defending Sun Belt champions (who tied with Bryan Harsin's Arkansas State RedHawks) are the most underrated—at least in the minds of fans—and maybe the most dangerous. That game comes on the heels of the Broncos' cross-country trip to Connecticut. Harsin knows all about ULL, as his ASU team lost 23-7 to the Ragin' Cajuns last year.
Jay Ajayi has completed his haul of preseason watch list mentions (I think) with his inclusion among Walter Camp Award candidates Friday. If Ajayi has the year many expect him to and forgoes his senior season for the NFL Draft, you begin to wonder where he'll stack up compared to Doug Martin. The Tampa Bay running back played all four years at Boise State, but he needed that senior year to convince scouts he was worthy of the first-round pick the Buccaneers used to get him in 2012. After all, the Broncos couldn't decide whether to play Martin on defense or offense until early in his sophomore year. Ajayi had a solid freshman year playing behind D.J. Harper—then exploded last season as a sophomore. He has shown NFL attributes and may need to merely stay the course this year to set himself up for a high draft pick.
Boise State basketball has ramped up the non-conference schedule the past few years. Now if the Broncos could just get some of these teams to return the favor and visit Taco Bell Arena (an ongoing challenge for the program). BSU has joined the field in the seventh annual Las Vegas Classic this season, getting two home games in the process. The Broncos will host Southern Utah and Abilene Christian on dates to be determined before they go to Vegas for the potential marquee games December 22-23. The first will be against Houston, the other versus either Texas Tech or Loyola-Chicago. A Mountain West team has won the tournament three of the last four years.
It was not a good time for the Boise Hawks' bats to go cold. They had to win the Northwest League South Division first-half crown outright to cash in on their first chance at a playoff berth, but Salem-Keizer dominated the Hawks 6-1 at Memorial Stadium last night. Coupled with Hillsboro's 3-2 win at Eugene, the Hops have clinched the first-half title with one game to go. Until their final at-bat, the Hawks managed to put a runner in scoring position just once all night versus the Volcanoes, and that came via a balk. Boise averted the shutout with an RBI single by Danny Canela with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. The Hawks' eight-game homestand wraps up tonight with one more against Salem-Keizer.
Not to "over-Josh Donaldson" you, but he had the best start imaginable for a former Boise Hawk in the second half of the season. With Oakland trailing Baltimore 4-2 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth Friday night, Donaldson clubbed a dramatic three-run walk off homer to give the A's a 5-4 victory. It was Donaldson's 21st home run of the season—but more significantly, it was his fifth career game-ending hit and third career game-ending homer. His clutch reputation more than overshadows his season batting average of .241. With two more RBI in yesterday's 10-2 win over the Orioles, Donaldson has now reached the 70 mark.
Boise's Brian Scott earned the pole at the Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland yesterday and ended up finishing sixth. It was still a feather in Scott's Shore Lodge cap, as he won $100,000 in the second event of the four-race "Dash-4-Cash" program. Scott led the race for 20 laps before eventual winner Chase Elliott took the lead. It was his third top 10 finish in his last four Nationwide events—he was seventh last week in New Hampshire. Scott is eligible for the bonus again next weekend in Indianapolis, after which he says he's "going to Idaho and visiting Shore Lodge and looking forward to buying everyone a drink there."
Other factoids from the weekend, Bishop Kelly won the 7-on-7 competition in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Football Challenge Saturday at the Optimist fields. Eagle High won the Linemen's Challenge, and Mountain View took the Tug-Of-War. And former Boise State wrestler Andrew Hochstrasser, a runnerup at the 2011 NCAA Championships, won the 134-pound gold medal at the Pan American Games in Mexico City. Hochstrasser's gold was one of five for the United States, helping secure the team title for the Americans.
This Day In Sports…July 21, 1996:
Six years after playing in the first Albertsons Boise Open, Tom Lehman hits the jackpot at the British Open. He became the first American to win an Open Championship on the Royal Lytham & St. Annes course since Bobby Jones 70 years earlier. Lehman topped Mark McCumber and another Boise Open alum, Ernie Els, by two shots. The title came in the middle of a three-year stretch in which Lehman led after 54 holes of the U.S. Open each year but faltered in the final round.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB's Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket. He also served as color commentator on KTVB's telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)