NOVATO, Calif. (January 30, 2011) -- What looks, on the virtual scoreboard, like an easy five stroke victory in the Wine Country Cup for Randy Haag was anything but.
The all-time amateurgolf.com tournament wins leader and Player-of-the-Year in the amateurgolf.com Tournament Series (ever since we have kept points stats) usually dominates at StoneTree, and had already won this event four times. But doubts of pulling off a fifth victory crept in on Sunday afternoon when a game Eric Grimberg holed a birdie putt on the par 3 17th, while Haag missed a two foot come-backer for par.
All of the sudden, a four stroke lead was down to two with a tough 18th hole left to play.
"I started thinking about a tournament that got away," said Haag. "And after a nice drive down the left side of the 18th hole, I decided to go for the flag with a 4-iron."
Not only did he pull off the shot -- which was into a two club wind -- he made the 10 foot birdie putt and proved to himself, once again, that at age 52 he can still compete with players half his age.
"That's what these events are all about, the swings back in forth -- pulling off shots when you need to," said Haag.
Not to take anything away from St. Mary's Senior Grimberg, a 2009 Oregon transfer who grew up in Portland, but the tournament may not have been as close if Haag hadn't three putted 5-times on Sunday.
Grimberg, who started the day two strokes behind Haag at even par, turned that deficit into a one stroke lead after just two holes on Sunday by going birdie-birdie to Haag's rough bogey-par start.
After a three putt from close range on No. 1 spoiled the sweetness of a 300 yard drive down the middle, and a par on No. 2, Haag had not only lost the lead, he was in the unfamiliar position (at least for him) of having lost the tee as well.
Grimberg placed a perfect long iron to the center of the green on the 192-yard 3rd hole, and Haag made a key decision to hunt down the elusive flag and the shot came off perfectly, leaving him a 3-footer which he holed for birdie. But two more three putts on the front nine were tough to stomach, especially after a John Daly-esque drive on the 9th over the hazard that left just 102 yards in for his second shot.
The players were tied at the turn, and stayed that way after trading pars on 10 and 11. Then, playing into a strong wind, Grimberg chose an 8-iron for his third shot from 130 yards on the par-5 12th, and wound up flying the green into the hazard.
"I was in the light rough, and hit a little eight iron that the wind didn't touch. Looking back I'm not sure a nine iron would have been enough to get over the front hazard," explained Grimberg.
Grimberg's tenacity showed itself with a chip-in to save bogey that kept him within one of Haag.
Haag bumped his advantage to two with a birdie at No. 13, and the two players exchanged pars on No. 14.
A two stroke swing on the signature 15th hole ensued when Grimberg suffered a double-bogey as a result of again misjudging the wind, this time with a five iron that bounced off the back of the green and down into the hazard behind the green.
Haag could have taken a five stroke lead to the 17th tee if not for recording his 5th three putt of the day at the par-5 16th, which he hit in two with a 5-iron.
The many players who have fallen victim to Haag's usually deadly sidesaddle style aren't exactly getting the violins out.
Playing well as of late, and working his way up the leaderboard into a tie for 2nd place, was Jerry Ledzinski of Carmel. Ledzinski tied Haag for low round of the day with a 1-over 73. At StoneTree, from the back tees after a rainy start, that's solid golf.
In the senior division, 2010 NCGA Senior Player-of-the-Year Mark Miller brought home his third Wine Country Cup by a single shot over surging final round players John Enright (71) and Herb Jensen (70). After opening the door for the field with a 40 on the back nine (where the seniors started), Miller birdied three of his first six holes on the front nine. The Antioch dentist went bogey-double on the No's. 7 and 8, but righted his ship for a par at the difficult 9th.
Jensen and Enright, who finished in the "what could have been" position couldn't have been two disappointed after their great Sunday rounds left them tied for second. Jensen improved his first round score by ten strokes; Enright by seven. A bit of ribbing with "Doc" Miller about who was struggling more down the stretch shows the level of camaraderie, especially among senior players that run into each other week in and week out.
In the net division, StoneTree Players Club member Tom Kelly, a 14 handicapper from San Rafael, came from three back to claim the not only the championship, but important StoneTree "points" by two shots over David Rockers of Mill Valley and Jesse White of Petaluma. Amateurgolf.com player Matt Romig tied for fourth with Bill Hudson and Chris Ladd, also StoneTree members. (Note to StoneTree members - we know you've got a good thing going there but join us once in a while because if you can play there, you can play anywhere!)
Special thanks to Steve Burns and the entire staff of StoneTree for hosting us for the 10th year. It is indeed a team effort pulling off one of Northern California's top early season events.
View results for amateurgolf.com 2011 Wine Country Cup