Golf: Atomic City Invite opens with qualifying round

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By The Staff

Lee Sanchez returns to defend his title in for the 2009 Atomic City Invitational tournament.

The ACI, which is hosted by Los Alamos Golf Course, will open Wednesday with its championship flight qualifying round. The tournament, which continues through Sunday, is the oldest match-play competition in New Mexico.

Qualifying starts at 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Sanchez, a member of the most famous golfing families in northern New Mexico — Marty Sanchez, another member of that family, has a links course in Santa Fe named after him — is a 3-time ACI champion, winning two straight contests in 1997 and 1998 before his outstanding title run last year.

Right off the tee, Sanchez will meet his 2008 finals opponent, Jason Norman. Norman will be grouped with him and 2007 ACI champion Brett Hollander in the qualifying threesome teeing off at 8 a.m.

Norman and Sanchez had one of the most exciting finals contests in ACI history last year. Norman came back from a 3-hole deficit with just six holes to play to tie the score at the end of the 27-hole match.

Norman’s approach on the 26th hole of the contest might have been the shot of the tournament — immediately following a great approach shot by Sanchez — had it not been for Sanchez’s gap wedge shot on hole No. 28 putting him within a foot of the cup to tap in for the victory.

Sanchez will be in the championship draw to defend his title regardless of the outcome Wednesday. The other top 15 qualifiers among the other 25 players in the qualifier will also advance to the championship bracket.

Among those attempting to qualify in the men’s bracket are four past ACI champions: Hollander, Cale Jones (2002, 2005), Gary Rich (1990, 1993, 2006) and Fred Seeley (1976, 1978, 1981, 1988, 1989).

Along with the men’s qualifying, there will also be a senior men’s stroke-play event Wednesday. While that event is solely for medalist honors, it includes past champion Fred Robinson (2005) and defending senior’s champ two years running, Eddie Sanchez.

Sanchez battled back from a 2-hole deficit to pick up a 3 and 1 victory over runner-up Bruce Takala.

Wednesday’s senior’s flight will tee off from the eighth hole starting at 8:05 a.m.

Match play starts Thursday morning at LAGC.

NOTES: The golf course will be closed for regular play until noon Wednesday until 1:30 p.m. for the rest of the ACI … LAGC will close at 6 p.m. Saturday … A celebration honoring retiring course manager Dennis McCloskey will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday following a long-drive competition at 5 p.m.

Here are the tee times and groupings for Wednesday’s Atomic City Invitational qualifying round.

Championship qualifier

8 a.m.: Lee Sanchez, Jason Norman, Brett Hollander

8:09 a.m.: Cale Jones, Brandon Rich, Gary Rich

8:18 a.m.: Curt Norman, Fred Seeley, Eric Rothe

8:27 a.m.: Brad King, Warren Finch, Marty Sanchez

8:36 a.m.: Jake Rodar, Richie Petty, Chelyan Gresham

8:45 a.m.: Pat Metzger, Bruce Norman, Ted Ball

8:54 a.m.: Colin MacFarland, Jim Liberty, Robbie Lentz, Ron Rothe

9:03 a.m.: Darren Knox, Lance Lackas, Thomas Herrera, Robert Ortiz

Senior flight

8:05 a.m.: Eddie Sanchez, Nick Silva, Fred Robinson

8:14 a.m.: Dale Mildbrandt, Ed Joyce, Dave Waters, Richard Ryders