There came a point Sunday when Parker Mills was afraid to speak to his older brother. He wouldn't have known what to say, anyway.
Three days of smiles at the Players Amateur had faded, and confusion, anger and perhaps a little bit of shock had taken over during 10 holes that seemed to drag on for days. The topper: Corbin Mills' three-shot lead entering the final round had flipped to a four-shot deficit that even he admitted seemed too steep to overcome.
"On No. 9, I was thinking that," Mills said. "... I thought, 'This is just not good. Nothing's going my way.'"
Then he found his comfort zone -- the back nine at Belfair Golf Club's West Course.
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Mills used four birdies on the final six holes to salvage a round of even par and overcome a four-shot deficit to win the 12th annual Players Amateur. He finished with a four-day total of 12-under 276 to become the first Clemson golfer to win the event and its first wire-to-wire champion.
Curtis Thompson and Patrick Rodgers, who began Sunday trailing Mills by seven and six shots, respectively, finished one shot back at 11 under. Max Homa took fourth at 10 under, and Eric Chun, James White, Brooks Koepka and Bo Andrews finished at 9 under.
Mills played the back nine at 13 under for the tournament.
"I knew I could play the back nine (well)," Mills said. "I just didn't want to lean on that completely."
After bogeying four of the first 10 holes, he was left with little choice.
As Mills approached the tee on No. 11, he trailed Chun by four shots and was looking up at five players. Chun held the lead, or at least a share of it, for much of the day until a double-bogey on the par-3 16th sent him sailing down a crowded leaderboard.
Chun birdied five of the first seven holes but bogeyed three of the final five.
"I was in the zone," Chun said. "I knew I had to get off to a good start today to put some pressure on the guys. I hit a lot of good shots, made a few crucial putts and got the momentum going."
Although Mills had faded early, Chun still had plenty of company atop the leaderboard. Thompson, Rodgers and Homa also found themselves in the mix for the championship -- and a sponsors exemption for next year's RBC Heritage -- throughout another hot afternoon at Belfair Golf Club, and all held at least a share of the lead during Sunday's final round.
"The game plan was to go out there and make as many birdies as possible," Thompson said. "... I made only a couple of small mistakes, but being seven (shots) back at the beginning of the day, you can't really make any mistakes."
When Thompson concluded his round of 66 -- the best of the day -- he did so with the lead. Rodgers joined him one pairing later, and the two were relegated to spectators as Mills abruptly began his climb back to the top.
Mills didn't birdie No. 12 for the first time all week -- which nearly caused him to throw in the towel, he admitted -- but he followed with birdies on 13, 14, 16 and 17. He was the only golfer among the top-eight finishers to birdie No. 16.
Mills wrapped up the championship with a 6-foot par putt that finished an up-and-down save on No. 18.
He also secured an action-packed 2012 spring, in which he will play in the Masters a week before traveling to Hilton Head Island for the RBC Heritage. Mills earned the Masters berth with a win last week at the U.S. Amateur Public Links in Bandon, Ore.
Perhaps of more immediate importance, he earned some rest. After playing 13 rounds of golf over the past two weeks, Mills will take the week off and return to action for the Palmetto Amateur in Aiken from July 20-23.
"That will be a nice little break," he said. "I think I have a week off.
He added with a laugh: "I hope so."
Sunday, at Belfair Golf Club, West Course; Par: 72; Yardage: 7,080
Corbin Mills 67-69-68-72--276
Curtis Thompson 71-72-68-66--277
Patrick Rodgers 72-69-69-67--277
Max Homa 69-70-69-70--278
Eric Chun 68-70-71-71--280
James White 71-69-71-69--280
Brooks Koepka 72-69-67-72--280
Bo Andrews 70-73-68-69--280
Conrad Shindler 71-72-69-69--281
Todd Sinnott 69-71-72-69--281
Andrew Yun 73-69-72-67--281
Jordan Russell 71-68-72-70--281
Kalem Richardson 68-69-70-75--282
Jeffrey Kang 71-71-70-70--282
John Peterson 69-75-69-70--283
Hunter Hamrick 69-75-67-72--283
Kramer Hickok 70-68-74-71--283
Austin Reeves 71-72-72-69--284
Michael McGowan 73-71-69-71--284
Cody Proveaux 75-70-67-72--284
Cameron Smith 69-72-72-71--284
Nathan Holman 71-75-73-67--286
Ben Campbell 76-66-73-71--286
Justin Thomas 74-70-73-69--286
Dominic Bozzelli 72-75-67-72--286
Crawford Reeves 73-69-75-70--287
Michael Hebert 73-71-69-74--287
Ethan Tracy 72-74-73-68--287
Wesley Bryan 73-73-70-71--287
Matt Nagy 70-72-75-71--288
Brinson Paolini 74-75-70-70--289
Matthew Stieger 70-75-73-71--289
Ryan McCarthy 71-72-71-75--289
Harold Varner 75-73-69-72--289
Bank Vongvanij 70-72-68-79--289
Brant Peaper 71-71-73-75--290
Julio Vegas 74-69-71-76--290
Anthony Paolucci 73-72-75-70--290
Byeong-Hun An 73-68-75-75--291
Richy Werenski 74-71-73-73--291
Jack Fields 73-72-71-75--291
Brett Drewitt 74-71-75-71--291
Brett Patterson 75-75-67-74--291
Max Scodro 73-72-73-73--291
Trey DelGreco 69-76-75-71--291
T.J. Mitchell 75-70-75-72--292
Cameron Peck 74-71-71-76--292
Conrad Ray 74-77-69-74--294
Chase Parker 78-69-73-78--298
Blayne Barber 71-74-67-DQ