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Rhode Island (RIGA) Mid-Amateur Championship

BY PAUL KENYON Journal Sports Writer

PROVIDENCE, RI (September 21, 2005) -- Suppose the Rhode Island Golf Association held a tournament and arranged it so that, coming down the stretch, it was a six-man scramble for the title.

Suppose the chase included many of the best players in the state, guys like Paul Quigley, George Pirie, Billy Auger, Euguene DiSarro, Rob Grossguth and Mike Prendergast.

Who do you think would win?

That scenario actually did happen yesterday in the Mid Amateur at Sakonnet. And the player most picked to win did -- the first guy to finish.

In this case, that was Prendergast. A longtime regular in Massachusetts amateur circles, Prendergast had the lowest score of the day, an even-par 70 through windy conditions. That gave him a 3-over total of 143.

When he finished, five others were still on the course, either tied or ahead of him.

As Prendergast chipped and putted on the practice green, everyone else fell back. When it was over, Prendergast had a one-stroke victory as first-day leader Auger (75), Pirie (73), Quigley (72), Grossguth (74) and DiSarro (73) all finished at 144.

Auger at least had some consolation. The 110 points he picked up clinched the RIGA's player-of-the-year award, Auger's second in the last three years. Auger did it without winning a tournament, but with an amazing six second-place finishes. He spoke candidly about how difficult it is to win.

"I have this nasty tendency to not like to play in the lead," he said. "It's kind of like I give shots back until I get to the point where I have to chase. I don't know what it is, but I really enjoy chasing more than being in the lead."

He is not alone. Actually, he is typical. Yesterday was a textbook example of how the player who posts a number first has a definite advantage. Prendergast saw both sides in one day.

He played very well early on. After beginning four shots back, he was 2 under through 13 holes. He was told he was fighting for the lead by that point. He bogeyed 14, then 15. It was his second shot on the par-4 15th that got him.

"I definitely choked on that 7-iron," he said. The shot was short and right, left him atop a berm that fronts the green and led to the bogey. He is experienced enough to know what was happening.

"I said, 'Well, you choked. So there's no need to do any more of this,' " he related. "Frankly, I find that when you make a mistake or two, if you can settle down and make a solid shot, it can get you back." For him, the solid shot came at the par-3 16th, where his tee shot went just over the back edge, leaving him a slippery downhill putt.

"I would probably be able to get down in two from there two in five times," he said. He hit a beautiful putt that rolled within a foot for an easy par. He also had a par save on 17 and a routine par on the last.

"I didn't expect to win," he said. He spent the next 45 minutes working on the practice green, which is within view of the 18th green.

"It's a lot easier to win from here than from out there," he said, motioning toward the course. All the other contenders were unable to match him.

Grossguth had the best chance. He bogeyed four of the last five. He was told on he 15th he was ahead. He admitted it affected him.

"Next time, I'm not going to want to know," he said. "Just play your game and worry about it when you get in."

Pirie bogeyed each of the last two for the second day in a row, that after having a two-stroke penalty for hitting the wrong ball (with playing partner John Drohen) on the third hole. DiSarro three-putted the 17th for bogey. Auger, who had lost the lead and then battled back, also bogeyed the 17th, which had a killer pin position high on the sloping green. Quigley kept narrowly missing birdie putts.

"It's the first guy in who has the best chance. You hear it every Sunday on TV," Prendergast said. "If I was one of the those guys and somebody was over here chipping and putting, I probably would have done the same thing."

Prendergast has been through such travails before. He is 52, a veteran of many such events, most in Massachusetts. He has won several titles, including being low amateur in the Mass. Open. While he still lives in Hingham, Mass., he joined Wannamoisett six years ago.

"It's my favorite course in New England," he said.

For him, it was a great ending to what began as an awful year. He did not play in the spring. He spent his time helping with his brother, Kevin, who died at 51.

For complete results, click on the tournament link above (amateurgolf.com premium membership requested).

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