Senior Men's ACI: Sanchez grabs 3-hole win

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By Mike Cote

Bruce Takala started off Saturday’s final match like gangbusters.

Takala topped 2007 senior’s champion Eddie Sanchez on the eighth and ninth holes, where the pair started, to grab a 2-hole lead.

But it wouldn’t stay that way for long.

Sanchez scored back-to-back pars on the 10th and 11th holes and would eventually go up to stay, holding on for a 3 and 1 victory in Saturday’s Atomic City Invitational senior’s final.

“I hit the first two greens and Eddie didn’t,” Takala said. “When I was hitting the green, I was putting a lot of pressure on him.”

But Takala’s iron shots, which looked solid at the opening, would lose their touch later, even as Takala continued to boom his drives 40 or 50 yards past Sanchez’s.

Meanwhile, Sanchez stayed on or near the fairway throughout his round and made enough putts to earn his second straight title in as many tries.

The early 2-hole deficit didn’t faze the senior’s champion at all.

“In match play, there are a lot more holes left, but when you get behind, you can’t quit,” Sanchez said. “Being two or three down early doesn’t hurt you. Late in the match, it’s a different story.”

Sanchez also survived an early scare from John Montoya in the semifinal round Friday to win in an extra hole and move to Saturday’s title match.

Montoya got hot as the pair neared the turn. On the eighth hole, Montoya sank an 18-foot birdie putt to win and go up by one, then on the ninth, Montoya’s chip from about 20 yards out bounced off the flag and dropped into the cup to give him a 2-hole edge.

The other semifinalists playing with Sanchez and Montoya Friday, Takala and Jim Hoffer, were even heading onto the eighth hole, but Hoffer would hit a 7-wood from the fairway to within five feet of the cup and win that hole.

Hoffer would also go up two over Takala on the ninth, burying a 28-footer for par.

Both Takala and Sanchez recovered on the back nine, however, to advance to Saturday’s final.

Sanchez and Montoya would need an extra hole to determine the winner of their match, one of three championship flight semifinals on the day that wasn’t settled in 18. Takala erased Hoffer’s lead after the ninth and took a 2 and 1 decision.

Sanchez said he felt better about his round Friday.

“I didn’t play as well (Saturday), but it was good enough to win,” he said.

In 2007, Sanchez knocked off Ivars Gals to win the senior’s flight, while Takala finished third, topping Fred Robinson in the consolation match.

Takala said this year’s tournament featured a tough field in the top senior’s bracket and he was happy to get to the final.

“I felt good about the way I played,” he said. “It was a strong field and a very enjoyable tournament.”