Cruise Control: Jeff Cuzzort Holds Lead, Wins Michigan Open Championship

   HIGHLAND – Jeff Cuzzort of Grosse Ile said winning the 98th Michigan Open Championship means everything to him.

   “Just everything, because I closed the deal,” he said after shooting a final-round 3-under 69 Thursday to hold off all challengers for the state championship presented by LaFontaine Cadillac at Prestwick Village Golf Club.

   “I didn’t make it through (PGA Tour Qualifying) again in 2013 and realized I was tired of chasing it and tired of spending the money of the great sponsors who believed in me,” he said. “I’ve just tried to make money since then, working for Pure Performance Golf Labs and caddying. I figured Michigan Open and the (Michigan) Tournament of Champions would give me that competitive fix.”

  It did that and more Thursday when his 69 left him with a 15-under 273 total and a four-shot win over mini-tour players Randy Hutchison of Traverse City and Jeff Bronkema of Wayland who each made chase with final rounds of 67 for 277.

  “We needed him to come back a little for us to have a chance, and credit to him, he held the lead and won,” Hutchison, the 2011 Michigan Open champion, said.

  Bronkema, who came as close as three shots with a birdie binge early on the back nine, said every time he made a putt it seemed Cuzzort matched him.

  “He played tough, and when it really looked like I had a chance at 16, he made just a great par-saving putt,” said Bronkema, a Plainwell native who is on the mini-tour circuit after trying the PGA apprentice program.

   “It could have been really different if he didn’t save that.”

   Cuzzort had a four-shot lead headed to 16, teed off with a 3-iron for safety but pulled it into long grass left of the fairway. A punch out followed by a shot to 20-feet from the pin left him with a sliding downhill putt he made. Bronkema made his birdie putt to pull within three shots, but it easily could have been two shots.

   “That was big,” Cuzzort said. “It was moving, but it went in and then I knew I could get it in.”

    He got it in with the help of a 204-yard 5-iron approach shot at 18, won the $8,500 first-place check and accepted the keys to a 2015 Cadillac SRX. Sponsoring LaFontaine Cadillac presented him with a one-year lease, and announced that for the third consecutive year they have agreed to be the presenting sponsor and Prestwick Village Golf Club will again be the site in 2016.

    “I’ll be back for sure,” said Cuzzort, who won the 2004 Michigan Amateur.  “Maybe I rethink the playing thing, but right now I’m going to enjoy winning the state championship. I’ve had a lot of vehicles, but I’ve never had a Cadillac. That’s going to be nice. It’s been a while since I felt this good about playing golf.”

    Andy Ruthkoski, the 2007 Michigan Open champion from Muskegon shot a final 68 for 279 and fourth place alone, and Doug LaBelle of Mount Pleasant, the former PGA Tour player, closed with a 71 for 280 and fifth place.

   Low amateur honors went to University of Michigan golfer Reed Hrynewich of Muskegon, who had a final 68 for 283 and sixth place alone.

   Traverse City amateur Patrick Colburn, who shot 73 for 284, Fox Hills Learning Center pro Brian Cairns, who shot 70 for 285, 2013 champion Tom Werkmeister of Kentwood, who shot 69 for 286, Ferris State golfer Ben Cook of Caledonia, who shot 71 for 287, and Jim Troy of Golf Performance Academy, who shot 72 for 287, rounded out the top 10.