ST. PETERSBURG — The final round of the New Year's Invitational at St. Petersburg Country Club was anybody's tournament through 14 holes. Then University of Texas junior Toni Hakula took charge.
Hakula birdied the par 4, 15th hole and the par 5, 16th. He then drained a 35-footer for birdie on the par 3, 17th hole and eagled the par 5, 18th to finish with a final round of 4-under 68. His four-round total of 12-under, 276 was four shots better than Joshua White, who was one shot back after 14 holes.
"The first 14 holes were a struggle, I made nothing," said Hakula, a native of Finland who came to the United States to play golf at Texas. "I was just thinking that the putts would fall in eventually. Then on 15 I made one and it opened things up."
Hakula, who was playing in his third New Year's Invitational, said this is the first tournament he has won since his junior year of school in Finland. He started the day two shots ahead of Lee McCoy, but he found himself 1-over through 14 holes and in danger of losing the lead.
Even after birdies on 15 and 16, Hakula was unsure whether it would be enough. When he drained his 35-footer from the front fringe of the 17th green, he felt comfortable.
"The putt on 17, when I made that 35-footer, then I felt relieved," Hakula said. "That was the putt that really freed me up."
White, who is from England, put on a little pressure by making eagle on the 18th to secure second place. Michael Miller and David Lee tied for third at 6-under, 282.
Joe Alfieri won the mid-amateur championship with a final round 72 and a total of 3-over, 291.