STOCKTON, Calif. (Sept 26, 2006) - The champions' wall at Poppy Hills is starting get a monotonous look.
After Bob Niger claimed the NCGA Valley Amateur at Elkhorn CC, the wall now has his picture on it for the second time. The 2004 champion of this same event defeated Garret Wagner of Discovery Bay on the first playoff hole to win his 12th championship of the year. Both Niger and Wagner, who were among four co-leaders after the first round, finishing 36 holes at five-under-par 137. Niger came to the 18th hole with a two-shot lead, but his leaky drive combined with a pitch-in by Wagner led to the playoff.
"I wanted win as many as possible this year," the Serrano member said. "Once I got off to a good start, I set a goal of 12 titles with two majors. Both goals were realized." Indeed, with the addition the Valley to the NCGA Master Division he won in July and the other ten events Niger won throughout the season (including the State Fair and Manteca City where he defeated Wagner again), the NCGA Player of the Year award was firmly in the champion's hands for the second year in a row by August.
With 17 players within three stokes of the four leaders to start the final round, there was bound to be many players in pursuit of the championship. Falling just short at two strokes back and tieing for third was Chris Marin of Cal State GC, Cody Slover of Sierra View of Visalia, David Capel of Stevinson Ranch, Rick Reinsberg of Moraga and Sean Jamison of Madera.
Defending champion Scott Hardy was scheduled to compete, but withdrew during the first round.
Gary Vanier finally earned his just due by seizing the Valley Senior Championship. Fresh off an appearance in the round of 16 at the U.S. Senior Amateur last week, the Olympic Club member torched Elkhorn with a five-under 66 to win by six strokes. The Valley is the State Senior and NCGA Senior runner-up's first senior championship.
"It's always nice to be able to compete and succeed," the champion said. "It doesn't matter how old you are. I feel I have been able to play successfully for 35 years - that's what I'm most proud of."
Another Olympic Club member, John Enright, placed second while third was shared by first-round leader and 2005 NCGA Player of the Year Rob Thompson of Merced, NCGA Senior Champion Bob Rowland (who placed in the top three of every NCGA senior scratch event in 2006), Charles Richesin of Woodbridge and Thomas O'Grady of Los Altos. Defending champion Frank Abbott of Silverado was unable to mount a charge in the final round, and finished 13 shots back.
Vanier's win makes the race for the 2006 Senior Player of the Year one of the closest in recent years. Bob Rowland entered the championship with a slim lead, but a Vanier win makes it a very tight finish. The award will be presented at the NCGA Annual Meeting, October 13 at Castlewood CC.
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