Jeff Cole reacts as his putt comes up short on the 18th hole Thursday during the Maine State Golf Association’s Match Play Invitational final at Fox Ridge Golf Club in Auburn. Cole would have forced a playoff had he made the birdie putt. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

AUBURN — Mother Nature played nice for most of Thursday’s Maine State Golf Association Match Play Invitational championship match between Drew Powell and Jeff Cole.

Other than a drizzle on the first few holes, the morning at Fox Ridge Golf Club was mostly cloudy until the players reached the 17th and 18th holes, when a steady rain started to fall. It might have come at a perfect time for Powell.

On the 18th green, with Powell leading 1 up, each player faced an important birdie putt. Powell’s was for the win and he gave it a good bid, but the ball rolled 3 feet past the hole. The pressure shifted to Cole, whose 25-foot attempt could tie the match. The Portland resident hit it right on line but the ball stopped 3 inches short. Powell then converted his short par attempt to become the 2021 MSGA Match Play Invitational champion.

Cole said he didn’t give the rain enough consideration when he hit the putt.

“I didn’t factor the wetness on the green into that one because I never questioned if I could get it to the hole,” Cole said. “I hit it on the exact line I had it, it was dead-center to the hole.”

The Match Play Invitational is Powell’s first individual MSGA championship.

“I won the four-ball championship with my friend Will (Kannegieser), but it really feels nice to win an individual event,” the Bangor resident said. “I had come close a lot of times in Maine Juniors and Maine Amateurs, it feels nice to finally get a win.”

The match was tied heading to the par-5 17th hole. Off the tee, both players landed shots in the right rough. Cole used his 3-wood to get the ball just in front of the green. Powell, meanwhile, hit an iron to the front edge of the green. After Cole chipped onto the green, Powell rolled his eagle attempt 4 feet past the hole. Cole missed his birdie putt, and Powell sank his to take a 1-up lead heading to the final hole.

Early in the match, it appeared that Cole was going to win before the match went very far into the back nine. Powell missed par attempts on Nos. 2, 4, 5 and 6 as Cole built a commanding 4-up advantage through six holes.

“I was playing solid. I knew he was missing a few (putts), but hats off to him, he played the last 13 holes in 5 under,” Cole said. “I didn’t hand (the victory) to him, but I got outplayed.”

Cole missed a long birdie attempt on No. 7, and Powell took advantage by draining a 25-foot birdie putt to begin chipping away at Cole’s lead.

“(The putter) was slow to wake up, that’s for sure,” Powell said. “Like I said (Wednesday), I was struggling with the speed (of the greens), and (Thursday) I was struggling early on with the speed. I just had to keep with it. Luckily that one on seven dropped and it sort of kick-started everything.”

In the middle of the fairway on the par-4 eighth hole, Cole chunked a wedge and had to pitch onto the green with his third shot. He missed the par attempt and conceded the hole to Powell.

“I tried to get really cute with the wedge because I thought he was in there close,” Cole said. “Even after that, it’s OK (with a 2-up lead). He played nine beautifully and he hit a really great wedge (to the green).”

Both players laid up on the par-5 ninth hole, and Powell made his short birdie attempt and Cole missed his birdie, and the lead was down to 1 up.

Powell tied the match on the 12th hole when he stuck his approach to less than 3 feet. Cole missed his birdie attempt and notched a par. He then conceded the hole to Powell and the match was tied for the first time since the opening hole.

On the 14th green, Cole had a costly miss on a short par attempt. Seeing his opponent’s miss didn’t faze Powell, and he made his putt to take a 1-up advantage.

Powell’s lead didn’t last long. Both players hit their approach shots on the 15th hole inside 10 feet. Cole made his 8-foot birdie and Powell’s 5-footer veered offline near the hole and the match was tied again.

“I made one (long) putt (all day) – on 15 after I missed a really short one (on the 14th hole),” Cole said. “It was the only putt I made all day outside of 5 feet.”

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