PEBBLE BEACH - For NCGA Four-Ball champions Kevin Kobalter and Zack Miller, the tournament represented their final event as four-ball partners.
After building a three-stroke lead at 11-under-par after two rounds, the Meadow Club members closed with a one-over-par 73 for a 206 total, holding on for a one-stroke win at treacherous 6,938-yard Spyglass Hill.
"Today was a struggle compared to the first two days," Miller said. "But this tournament has slipped out of hands before - we've been in the final group three times and didn't get the job done, so it's great to finally win."
The 22-year-old Miller, a senior at Stanford and currently ranked #23 nationally in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, plans on turning professional at the end of the summer, ending his amateur career. The Four-Ball preceded Stanford's trip to the NCAA Western Regionals.
Kobalter, at age 46, completed a duo rife with contrasts. "We started playing together when he was young," Kobalter said. "I can't play like he does. He is a tremendous ball striker, whereas I've had to learn how to manage my game. I've tried to give him advice and help him maximize his potential, score-wise. I think he's going to be very successful as a professional."
Indeed the champions were the very epitome of "ham and egg," the term for four-ball competitors who always manage to score well when their partner is in trouble.
"The first day I played well; the second - he did. We had trouble on the front nine today, but then we got it going," Kobalter said.
"Kevin has really helped me with my game," Miller added, "and there were a couple of times when he was the glue that held us together."
The championship is the first NCGA title for both players. Kobalter's best previous finish in an NCGA event was third place in the 2005 Master Division Championship, though he has captured three Marin County Amateur titles. The Four-Ball is just another notch in the belt of a tremendous senior year for Miller. The San Rafael resident has already won three collegiate events (the Golden Gopher Invitational, The Prestige at UC Davis and the CordeValle Classic).
Kobalter and Miller essentially won the championship with two stellar opening rounds of 66 and 67. The 17 birdies the duo made over the course of the 54-hole event included only three in the final round. But two of those birdies - on 13 and 15 - proved to be the difference in the final score. The final round had become a game of "catch me" as the champions were pursued by seven teams who ended up within three strokes of the top spot. Runners-up (after a two-hole playoff) Jeffrey Hollis of Brighton Crest and Michael Stieler of Riverbend flirted with the lead the entire back nine, powered by a Stieler eagle on the par-five 11th, but were never able to gain enough momentum to take the lead.
Third-place finishers Jerry Ledzinski of PGG Rancho Canada and Michael Harrington of Tehama GC shot the low round of the championship by three shots in the final round - a hot, nine-under 63 that gave them the clubhouse lead up until the penultimate group finished.
Competitors were universal in their praise of Spyglass Hill as the tournament venue. "I've been playing here 40 years," veteran NCGA tournament player Earl Stewart said. "And this is the best the course has ever looked."
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--Story courtesy NCGA