DENVER, Colo. (Aug. 12, 2013) -- John Ahern certainly knows a little something about prevailing when the odds seem stacked again him.
Three years ago in the 4A state high school tournament, he beat Wyndham Clark head to head -- when Clark was ranked among the top 10 junior players in the country -- to win the title.
That same year, Ahern went five holes of sudden death to win the CJGA Tournament of Champions.
Then there was Sunday. Despite working full-time at an oil and gas company this summer, the 20-year-old from Bear Creek Golf Club rallied to not only overcome two reigning CGA state champions, but prevailed in a playoff despite seemingly being behind the 8-ball.
Minutes after missing almost the same putt on the 72nd hole of regulation, Ahern made the only birdie of the day on the 18th hole at Pinehurst Country Club -- in the first hole of sudden death -- to win the 77th CGA Stroke Play Championship.
Ahern, a junior-to-be on the Colorado School of Mines golf team, drained a 16-foot putt from the fringe (pictured above) to overcome Andrew Cornella of the Club at Flying Horse in the playoff.
"This is huge," Ahern said. "I've never won anything this big at the men's level. I've been working a lot so I didn't really expect to come out and play that well. I haven't played a lot of golf (recently), but sometimes that's a good thing. It felt great."
The victory was the second CGA championship for Ahern, who won the 2011 CGA Junior Match Play as well as the 2010 4A state high school title.
The left-hander trailed by four early in the final round, but rallied by playing his final seven holes in 3 under par, including the playoff. Ahern fired an even-par 70 on Sunday to finish at 5-under 275.
Cornella, a Colorado Springs resident who is transferring from Nevada to Texas-Arlington to continue his college golf career, went 67-67 on the weekend to force the playoff. Then he gained the upper hand on the extra hole by hitting a 400-yard drive -- with the help of a cart path bounce -- on the 419-yard, par-4 18th hole at Pinehurst.
That blast put Cornella (pictured at left) about 120 yards closer to the hole than Ahern. But the Mines golfer hit a 50-degree wedge from 138 yards to the fringe to the right and short of the hole, 16 feet away. Cornella had a tough chip shot from just in front of the green and ran it 15 feet past the cup. And after Ahern coaxed in his birdie, Cornella missed his, ending the tournament.
"I was about 2 inches (from where he putt in regulation on No. 18)," Ahern said. "It was really close. It was the same line, the same putt. I got a pretty good read from the first one. The first time, I thought it was breaking a ton. I probably missed it 6 or 7 inches out. Coming back the second time, I hit it a little lower and it stayed on line and caught the edge."
Cornella, who has been playing golf with Ahern since the age of 7, did think his huge drive in the playoff gave him an edge, but he certainly didn't take anything for granted.
"I felt I had the advantage," Cornella said. "I actually didn't feel I hit a bad chip. That was actually a straight putt and it was the easiest putt to make. (The chip) was a little too hard but I was trying to hit it 5 feet past the hole. I just hit one too many clubs for the run."
Derek Fribbs (pictured at left) of Colorado National Golf Club, a former teammate of Ahern at the University of Colorado before Ahern transferred, finished third on Sunday, two behind Ahern and Cornella. Fribbs, who won the 2013 CGA Public Links Championship, closed with a 71.
"I didn't make any putts and that's what killed me," said Fribbs, who made the final 32 at the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship last month. "I didn't have the right reads or the right speed."
Fribbs, a regular contender at CGA championships in recent years, said that the Stroke Play was "probably my last amateur tournament. We'll see, though. But I'm excited to start something new. Hopefully I'll be on a bigger stage soon."
Another of Ahern's Sunday playing partners, defending champion Steven Kupcho of CommonGround Golf Course, had held at least a share of the lead after rounds 2 and 3. But the University of Northern Colorado golfer couldn't find his form from the previous two days, shot 75 and settled for fourth place at 278.
"I just stopped hitting greens," said Kupcho (pictured at left), who hit just six in regulation on Sunday. "And I had missed only one up-and-down until today. My chipping had been really good all week. The greens are firm and your game has to be on if you're going to give yourself birdie opportunities, and I just wasn't able to do that."
Kupcho was attempting to become the first back-to-back winner of the CGA Stroke Play since Kane Webber managed the feat in 2002 and '03. But he was derailed on Sunday.
"That would have been cool," he said. "Just having your name on that (Tub Morris Trophy) is an honor when you look back and see some of the names who have won it. To be able to go back-to-back would have been awesome, but hopefully it's not my last time contending."
Kupcho started Sunday with a 1-foot birdie and led by four early in the final round. But three straight birdies by Fribbs, including a 35-foot chip-in at No. 5, tied things up.
It wasn't until a 35-foot birdie on No. 13 that Ahern (pictured at left) earned a share of the lead on Sunday. Both he and Cornella birdied the par-5 16th to get to 5 under and in line for a playoff.
"I'm happy I lost to a birdie and to one of my best friends in this game," Cornella said. "I've known John for years. It stings to lose, but he's a good guy. It was a good week for me. You can never complain when you shoot 67-67 on the weekend."
It was the third time in the last eight years that the CGA Stroke Play champion has been decided in a playoff. The last time was when Clark defeated Jim Knous in 2010 following Knous' course-record 60 in the final round at Boulder Country Club.
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