MIDWAY -- First came rain. Then came fire.
For the better part of their morning match, Top of Utah golfers Cole Ogden and Jeff Powars battled the elements more than each other.
But when the weather around Soldier Hollow finally improved late Friday morning it seemed to ignite something inside Ogden, giving him a confidence boost that propelled him right into today's finals of the 115th annual Utah State Amateur.
After beating Powars 1-up in the morning quarterfinal Ogden earned a spot in the finals on the strength of an afternoon semifinal-round victory Jacob Holt. He highlighted the round, the day and perhaps the week by nearly acing the par-4 18th hole to win his match 2-up.
Ogden will face Jeff Evans in a
36-hole final beginning at 7:30 this morning.
Evans defeated Joe Parkinson and Dan Horner -- both former champions at Soldier Hollow -- with 3 and 2 efforts in his two matches.
"That was one of the best shots I've ever hit in my life," Ogden said, referring to the 300-yard 3-wood he smoked off the final tee.
For as beautifully as he hit his last shot of the day, that little ray of sunshine was unthinkable when he and Powars teed off in amid clouds and rain nearly 10 hours earlier.
Powars, 54, knew he'd have to catch a few breaks if he had any chance of beating the 21-year-old Ogden on Soldier Hollow's long, hilly track. And that's exactly what happened as he took a 1-up lead after the first hole and increased it to 2-up after the third.
With dark clouds enveloping the foothills above the Heber Valley, Ogden and Powars were pelted with a steady rain throughout their front nine. The cool, soggy weather forced spectators to hide under umbrellas and it made it nearly impossible for the players to properly grip their clubs.
Powars maintained his lead through the first seven holes but Ogden caught him on the par-5 eighth, then went 1-up on the downhill ninth.
Although the weather was still at least an hour away from lightening up, Ogden seemed to be warming up as he made the turn. If nothing else his play at the end of the front nine had triggered his competitive juices and sustained him the rest of the way.
"He started driving it better and you saw how much father (off the tee) he is than I am," Powars said of Ogden.
But Powars kept fighting, kept playing his steady, unspectacular brand of golf. Without the slightest bit of flash, the junior high school administrator simply kept his ball in the fairway and routinely hit greens. Often his tee shots settled 50 yards or more behind Ogden's, but they were rarely off the fairway and he almost always gave himself a chance at par or better.
Powars birdied a par 5 and a par 4 on the back, but each time Ogden matched him. Finally, on the par 4, 488-yard 14th, Ogden took a 2-up lead and maintained it for the next three holes.
The match was all but over when they came to the par 3 17th. All Ogden needed to do was win the hole and he'd win the match. However, there was time for Powars to make one last statement.
After Ogden left his tee shot short of the green, Powars stuck his first shot within 15 feet of the hole.
Determined, Ogden sent a well-executed chip scooting across the green, settling inside two feet of the hole.
Powars conceded Ogden's tap-in par then turned his attention to his own putt. If he made the birdie it would have sent the match to the 18th with at least a chance of extra holes. Instead it rolled off the lip, ending the match with Ogden winning 2-and-1.
"I wanted to finish (the match) as quick as possible (on the back nine)," Ogden said. "But he's a great player. The thing with him is, he hits it so straight. He doesn't miss a fairway."
And speaking of missing fairways, that's what Ogden technically did on the final hole of his afternoon match.
He missed the fairway of the 300-yard par 4, but he did hit the green.
In an effort to give players something extra to think about, tournament officials moved the tees up considerably closer to the hole for Friday's matches.
With tees farther back, players had no chance of hitting the green with their drives. However, with the hole shortened to roughly 300 yards -- with a small creek and lots of thick rough in front off the green -- players had to consider the risk vs. reward possibilities.
Ogden didn't hesitate to swing away, even though he was only leading 1-up at the time. He said he didn't see the shot land but knew something good had happened when his caddie began yelling "Get in the hole!"
The shot cleared a creek in front and came to settle two feet from the hole.