RALEIGH, N.C.- It took a playoff to decide the winner of the Rex Hospital Open at the Country Club at Wakefield Plantation on a hot June Sunday.
Mito Pereira outlasted Stephan Jaeger on the 18th hole and earned the 2021 title in exciting fashion.
As both tied the tournament scoring record at 21-under par, knocking down his fairway pitch from 110 yards out with a 60-degree wedge, Pereira only had to clean up a four-footer for birdie to top Jaeger’s missed 15-footer.
“I just wanted to hit a low one so it doesn’t spin back, and it ended up being perfect,” Pereira said.
Where were we when we met last?
It was two years since the last tournament crowd witnessed Sebastian Cappelen set that 72-hole scoring record with a 21-under 263 en route to his second career Korn Ferry Tour victory which eventually helped to put him in 16th place on the 2019 Tour points standings, and secured his PGA TOUR card for the 2020 season.
Although he won by three strokes, local product Grayson Murray turned on the heat and fired a final-round 61 and made a run towards the tournament title.
Even while Murray played the final 52 holes of the tournament without making a bogey, Cappelen took home the Tournament crystal.
Rain, heat, fast greens – so what’s new?
Preceded by a big storm of rain that delayed play through Thursday, Friday, and into Saturday, the excitement building up throughout the final round of play during this year’s event brought back memories of tournaments held before the pandemic shutdown of 2020.
Severe stormy weather at the Rex was nothing new.
Neither was sun, heat and humidity.
It’s all a part of the package of playing at Wakefield Plantation.
Aside from extreme weather conditions and close finishes, this tournament has always been about the players – a field that year-in and year-out is talented and working hard to get to the next level.
They set foot on this course and are hungry to devour it.
It’s not punishing, it’s not easy, but it requires power and accuracy off the tee and regimented consistency on the greens to score low.
And when everyone in the field is throwing darts onto the greens over four days, it comes down to who will be the last man standing.
“If you can drive well on this course, you’re in a good position on every hole, ” Pereira noted.
“That was the big point for me. It’s a great course, and it was in great shape too.”
It’s not how you start, but how you finish
That’s why Sunday at the Rex never disappoints.
It’s always an exciting finish, and particularly so in recent years.
And even without playing last year due to Covid-19 restrictions and protocols – the lost year we’ll call it – what you witnessed on 18 this past weekend didn’t feel any different than in previous years.
A Groundhog Day-feeling of sorts.
Pereira’s win over Jaeger was the third Rex Open decided in a playoff in the last six years the event has been played.
In those years that a playoff wasn’t needed, it was decided by one, two, and three-stroke margins – not much meat left on the bone in any of those nailbiters.
Cappelen outdistanced himself from Murray by three in 2019.
2018 champion Joey Garber stayed steady and made par at 18 while Scott Langley and Hank Lebioda looked on wishing he didn’t, each falling one stroke short on the final green as a result.
In 2016, eventual winner Trey Mullinax maintained his poise during the final three holes, making par on each, while 54-hole leader Brady Schnell made costly mistakes on 17 and 18, bogeying each and inevitably losing by two strokes.
Hold my mask
Though the pandemic has not been declared “over” by any means, coupled with recent relaxation of and adjustments to state Covid-19 protocols, it looked and felt like that at this year’s Rex Open.
It looked and felt normal with spectators (1000 limit total) in the stands and sponsor boxes surrounding number 18.
Pereira was all smiles, as the 2021 champion, waving the flag of his home country of Chile just as proudly as raising the tournament crystal.
The green was crowded with tournament personnel and local media who engaged with the champion – intimately, face-to-face, and not on a Zoom call.
The Rex was back, and in a way that seemingly made it feel and look as though we hadn’t missed much of a beat over the past year-plus.
A feel-good moment to appreciate for sure.