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Men's ACI: Norman, Sanchez advance to final

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By Mike Cote

A wily veteran and an up-and-comer will duke it out in today’s men’s final of the Atomic City Invitational.

Jason Norman and Lee Sanchez advanced to the championship match of the championship flight with big wins Saturday.

Norman, a former Los Alamos High School standout, continued an impressive run through the men’s title flight Saturday, knocking off Tim Johnson 3 and 2 in Saturday’s semifinal match at Los Alamos Golf Course.

Sanchez, a two-time ACI champion and one of the top amateurs in northern New Mexico, earned a surprisingly big win over another former Hilltopper standout, Eric Trujillo 5 and 4 in Saturday’s other semifinal.

Trujillo’s bread-and-butter short game, which was firing on all cylinders through the first two rounds, never got going against Sanchez.

Sanchez will be going for his first ACI title in 10 years when he and Norman tee off at 7:30 a.m. today. He won back-to-back titles in 1997 and 1998.

Today’s men’s final match is scheduled for 27 holes.

Trujillo and Johnson will face off for third place today as well.

In Friday’s quarterfinal round, Trujillo scored a decisive win in upsetting 2007 ACI champion Brett Hollander 4 and 3.

Trujillo was red hot during Friday’s round, shooting a 4-under through the 14-hole match, which Hollander, despite a solid 2-over, simply couldn’t keep up with.

“I felt like I didn’t put pressure on him at the right times,” Hollander said. “You have to break up his hot streak. That’s how you play this thing.”

Hollander went up two holes at one point in the contest, then Trujillo caught fire, winning five straight holes. Hollander finally broke the streak with a birdie, but Trujillo answered with a birdie of his own.

“It bums me out, but it’s very tough to repeat,” Hollander said of not getting a shot at defending his title. “There’s a lot of good players. It’s very difficult.”

Trujillo said after his round that he was able to play consistently against the defending champ throughout Friday and managed to avoid any really costly mistakes.

The men’s ACI this year is sporting one of the tougher fields in recent memory, with five former champions in the 16-man flight.

Sanchez sank a 12-foot par putt on the fourth hole to edge out Curt Norman on their 20th hole of play and advance to Saturday’s semifinal.

Johnson went the distance against Gary Rich before advancing Friday. Johnson knocked in an 8-footer for birdie while Rich, who had a solid 4 and 3 victory over Brad King the day before, couldn’t recover from a tee shot that landed in the first fairway in time.

In Wednesday’s championship qualifying round, Johnson finished just one stroke behind Norman for the top finish, then topped Kurt Anast 3 and 1 in his opener.