OAKLAND, Maine — Leslie Guenther was in a familiar position going into Wednesday’s final round of the Maine Women’s Amateur golf championship.
The veteran player out of Norway Country Club, who had led the tournament after two rounds in each of its first two years, was again at top of the leaderboard. Despite her recent history of final-round struggles, Guenther didn’t allow this one to slip away at Waterville Country Club.
She shot a 9-over par 82 on Wednesday for a two-day score of 157 to secure the Maine Women’s Amateur title with a two-shot victory over Mary Brandes of The Woodlands Club in Falmouth.
“More than anything, I’m relieved,” said Guenther, who was the runner-up in the 2012 event and finished ninth last year.
“I’m sorry I didn’t play better (Wednesday), but I was so pleased with the way I played (Tuesday),” she added.
Guenther, a four-time champion in the former Southern Maine Women’s Golf Association Championship, went into the day with a three-shot lead over Brandes. Guenther prevailed, but not before overcoming a triple bogey on the seventh hole and an hour-plus rain delay.
“I’ve always dreamt of this,” a teary Guenther said during the awards ceremony. “Sorry for the tears, but I’m thrilled.”
Guenther, the athletic director at Hebron Academy, has been a perennial title contender in Maine women’s golf.
From 2003-2011, at the now-defunct Women’s Maine State Golf Association Championship, Guenther finished no lower than sixth (2011) and registered three consecutive runner-up performances (2005-2007).
Brandes shot an 8-over 81 after carding a 78 on Tuesday. She actually surged into the lead briefly on Wednesday, but was unable to overcome Guenther. She took third the previous two years.
“That was the best I’ve hit it all summer,” said Brandes, who is a multiple winner in SMWGA play.
Bailey Plourde, a 14-year-old from Newcastle, fired a 78 on Wednesday to claim a share of third place along with WMSGA President Micki Meggison of Sable Oakes in South Portland at 160.
Liz Wiltshire of Natanis Golf Course in Vassalboro took fourth at 162, followed by Ruth Colucci of Biddeford-Saco Country Club (163), two-time defending champion Emily Bouchard of Saco (164) and Prudence Hornberger of Turner Highlands at 165.
Rounding out the top 10 were Kris Kannegieser of Martindale Country Club in Auburn and Cecily Whiting of The Woodlands at 166.
Guenther relinquished the lead briefly after a struggling stretch of four holes on the front. While she birdied No. 3 with a nifty 25-foot putt, she went on to bogey Nos. 5, 6 and 8 with a triple-bogey at the seventh, a 265-yard par-4 with a pond in front.
“I hit a good shot, I just didn’t hit a full shot because I didn’t think I needed to,” Guenther explained. “I was so shocked when it went in (the water).”
Brandes birdied the seventh to take what would be a brief, one-stroke lead. She relinquished it with a bogey on 8 and back-to-back double-bogeys at 9 and 10.
A driving rain soaked the course and the golfers as the lead group made its way down the ninth fairway. The horn sounded, suspending play, after two players were on the green.
When play resumed an hour and nine minutes later, Guenther finished out a par on the ninth, while Brandes and Bouchard settled for doubles. Guenther said the break changed her mindset a bit.
“If feels like you’ve been waiting, I don’t know how long it was, and all of a sudden you’re playing competitive golf again and it doesn’t feel like a competition anymore,” she said.
Brandes admitted the rain and the subsequent delay were the difference in her round, especially after she followed up her double-bogey on 9 with another on the 10th hole.
“I had double-double and those are easy holes. They should be birdie-birdie,” Brandes said. “The rain was pouring, so I got the double there (on 9), then I lost my swing for a hole.”
It was up and down for the lead threesome from that point on, but Guenther was consistent enough to hang onto the lead. Knowing it was close, she admitted checking the score on the 18th fairway.
“I thought, I’ve got to know how many strokes I have so I know what leeway I have,” she said, realizing that even a three-putt likely would give her the title.
Plourde, who plays at the Samoset Resort in Rockport, rallied with a second-round 78 that put her into contention. The 2013 Maine schoolgirl co-champion posted birdies on Nos. 3, 5 and 10 and parred the last five holes.
“I think I relaxed more.I felt a little better about my game,” she said of Wednesday’s round. “I didn’t have to chip a lot, which was good.”
Wiltshire carded the best round of the day, a 76, notching an eagle 3 on the 11th hole and a birdie on the 17th. Meggison had a 79 with three birdies but had two double-bogeys on the back nine.