STEVINSON, Calif. (March 27, 2010) -- Playing in his first amateurgolf.com tournament, professional poker player Kevin Noto of Las Vegas took a seven-shot lead into the final round after firing a 6-under 66 at the California Mid-Am at Stevinson Ranch. But Noto, the reigning Nevada State match play champion, saw all of that lead disappear after a furious charge by Randy Haag of Burlingame, who shot 4-under 68 in the final round to come from eight shots back and force a playoff.
Haag made up most of his ground on Noto on the treacherous back nine at Stevinson, where several really tough pins, coupled with greens running at tour speeds of 13-14 on the Stimp meter had many players struggling to make par. That was especially true on the final three holes, a par-3, par-4, par-5 finish that have recently been referred to by Stevinson Ranch owner George Kelley as "The Gauntlet." (We're sure Clint Eastwood would approve.)
Haag made birdie on No. 16, then finished par-par to close out his round, while Jerry Ledzinski, playing in the same pairing (one group in front of the leaders) finished birdie-birdie to just miss the playoff.
For Noto's part, finishing off a tournament after such a hot first round is never easy, with the other players having nothing to lose. His tournament total of 142, as noted by George Kelley, seems to be "the number" every year in this event.
The playoff started on the par-5 18th hole, where both players hit big drives. Noto outdrove Haag, who doesn't hit last very often, by almost 30 yards after a downwind blast -- believe it or not -- of almost 400 yards. Both players were able to reach, and hold the firm green with irons. After Haag left his eagle putt hanging on the lip of the hole, Noto had a chance to win, but his eagle putt missed and the playoff continued.
The players moved to the par-5 10th hole, where both drives ended up partially blocked by a tree on the right side. Haag hit his approach into the left greenside grass bunker, while Noto maneuvered a spectacular shot onto the green, 30 feet behind the hole. Noto left his putt 5 feet from the hole, while Haag chipped to about 7 feet. But Haag was unable to convert, and Noto rolled in his putt for the win.
In the Senior Division, Doug Johnson of Fresno rode a hot putter to a two shot win over Jim Knoll of Sunnyvale and Jeff Burda of Modesto.
Playing in his first amateurgolf.com event, Derek Jepsen of Novato shot the low round each day to win the Net Division by five shots over Anthony Sumida of Temple City.
* Special thanks - Once again, Stevinson Ranch provided an excellent set-up and playing conditions, with greens running a smooth 13+ each day. The tournament, an important NCGA Points event, is played each year at the home course of amateurgolf.com for good reason. Not to take anything away from our other fine host courses, but you simply can't find better playing conditions, a better practice facility, or a friendlier staff anywhere. It's worth the drive!
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Bookmark this one - Finally, I want to refer you to a great blog by tournament runner-up Randy Haag. He started his blog during the SF City Championship, and has been doing a great job of keeping it going. His stories about the weekend at Stevinson are really funny - check it out at: www.randyhaag.com.