BANGOR — Billy Downes of Hampden, Mass., has been struggling the last couple of years.
He lost the Nike (now Buy.com) Tour card which he had held for four years, then struggled still in the smaller tournaments since then.
Downes’ confidence received a major boost Saturday as he won the 34th Greater Bangor Open with a tournament record-tying 54-hole total of 8-under-par 199.
Downes shot a 1-under-par 68 Saturday at Bangor Municipal Golf Course on the way to a two-stroke victory over Jim Gilleon of Singer Island, Fla. Gilleon also shot a 68 for 201.
Defending champion John Connelly of Oregon, Ohio, blistered the course for a 65 Saturday and came in third at 202, ironically, the score he won with last year. Dave Gunas of Amston, Conn., took fourth at 203 after his final-round 70.
John Hickson of Bath earned low Maine pro honors with a 70 for 206, and Mike Norris of Newburgh repeated as low amateur with 215 after a 75 Saturday.
It wasn’t the fact that he won that boosted Downes’ confidence, but how well he played doing it.
“Anytime you win it gives you confidence. More so for me because I was hitting the ball well,” said Downes, who picked up $10,000 for this win.
And because he hadn’t been hitting the ball well last year, he decided to devote the winter to correcting that.
“I didn’t play at all last winter. I just worked on my swing,” he said. “I feel like it’s starting to pay off.”
It paid off right away Saturday.
After rounds of 65-66 the first two days, he was a stroke behind leader Mike Meehan of Locust Valley, N.Y., and two strokes in front of Gunas, who was playing in the lead group, and Gilleon, who was in the group ahead.
Downes jumped into a tie for the lead on the 10th hole, the players’ first as the nines were reversed for the last day, when he hit his approach shot 7 feet right of the cup and drained the left-to-right breaker for birdie.
“I felt really comfortable over the putter [all day],” said Downes.
He took the outright lead three holes later on 13 when his 18-foot putt just dropped into the cup.
The lead increased to three when Meehan, who had set a tournament course record on Thursday with a 62, suffered back-to-back bogeys on 15 and 16, missing par putts of 3 feet and 8 feet, respectively.
Meehan continued to struggle after that, never making a birdie all day.
“The course is set up real tricky. Once you start to three-putt, it starts to get to you,” said a discouraged Meehan, who figures this is about his third trip to the GBO. “I started to guess [about how putts would break], and I guessed wrong. And [the course] looks real simple.”
Gunas, after a bogey on 11, made birdies on 13 and 14 to close within three, but then bogeyed 16 and 17 to fall five back.
“We were playing for second after five or six holes,” said Gunas. “When he got five or six ahead, there was no catching him.”
Gunas was disappointed his game didn’t hold up for all three days after opening with 67-66.
“I couldn’t hit my irons in the air,” he said of his low-trajectory approach shots. “I didn’t play an unsolid shot until today.”
Downes made a terrific shot out of the right bunker on 18 to save his par 4 and maintain his cushion, then birdied No. 2 to get down to 10 under.
When he stuck his approach shot on No. 2 about 2 feet right of the cup, Gunas, who stays loose by having a little fun on the course, started bowing to Downes in submission.
Downes, who does smile on the golf course, was not about to get caught up in it with that many holes left.
“He’s a good guy, and he’s fun to play with,” said Downes later, who used his hands to show he had blinders on and he was focused on his job, “but today, it was all about business.”
His lead dropped to four with a bogey on the par-3 third, but pushed it back to five with a two-putt birdie on No. 4, the only par-5 on the course. He pretty much coasted in from there, hitting long irons off the tees and staying out of trouble.
Downes did bogey the long par-3 sixth and No. 9, the final hole, but they were of little consequence by then.
“When I two-putted [No.] 7, I felt pretty good [about being able to win],” said the 34-year-old Downes, who didn’t know for sure where he stood with Gilleon until he was walking down No. 8 and saw the leader board for Gilleon’s group on No. 9 which showed he had a three-shot cushion.
“I knew once I parred 8 that I had it,” said Downes, “even if [Gilleon] made birdie on 9.”
Downes has experience playing in the final group in several tournaments, but admits to having had trouble closing. He also admitted to feeling a little nervous Saturday.