Scott Berliner felt the pressure, but he survived.
On another day when even the shortest of putts demanded the utmost attention, the Normanside Country Club assistant pro held off relentless Bob Mucha to win the Northeastern New York PGA Stroke Play Championship by two shots Tuesday at Mohawk Golf Club.
It was the second straight Stroke Play crown for the reigning NENYPGA Player of the Year, and he also locked up his second straight points championship with only one major event left on the schedule. But it wasn’t easy by a long shot.
In fact, until Mucha’s double-bogey on the 17th hole, Berliner’s victory was very much in doubt.
Berliner ended up shooting another even-par 71 for a two-day total of 142, and he earned $2,700. Mucha, who started the day one shot behind, shot his second consecutive 72.
Even though Mohawk got drenched by rain late Monday night and early Tuesday morning, the greens were still extremely challenging. The pressure of playing in the club professionals’ top event also played a role in several missed putts.
The leaderboard was still bunched on the front nine, but Berliner and Mucha began to put some space on the rest of the field on the back nine.
Berliner reached the par-5 13th hole in two and tapped in for a birdie that put him one-under-par for both the day and the tournament, giving him a two-shot edge over Mucha, the head pro at Greenock Country Club.
But Mucha cut the deficit in half with a 12-foot birdie on the 14th hole after Berliner made a fine up-and-down par save.
Berliner missed an opportunity to widen his lead on the par-3 15th hole when he missed a two-foot birdie putt with a huge break. Ian Breen of Colonie Golf & Country Club, who was playing in the same lead group, four-putted that same green.
One of the turning points of the final round came on the 16th hole. Mucha hit a 6-iron to eight feet, and Berliner flew the green with a wedge. Although Berliner’s excellent flop shot from behind the green landed about three feet away, he missed the par putt, and Mucha had a chance to pull in front. But Mucha missed the birdie putt, and there was a tie for the lead.
But disaster struck Mucha on the 17th hole. He split the fairway with his tee shot, but he pulled his approach shot from a wet lie, and it landed near the lip of a bunker. He pitched out, but then three-putted for double-bogey. Berliner two-putted for par and took a two-shot lead into the final hole, where both players made comfortable pars.
“The 16th hole was a big turning point, in my opinion,” said Berliner. “I really thought I had made a good shot, and I was surprised the ball went over the green. I was happy with my flop shot, and I thought it landed even closer to the hole, but I missed that putt. When Bob missed his birdie putt, I really dodged a bullet there.”
Berliner also admitted that he began doubting his putter after he missed that short birdie chance on 15.
“The putting demons were definitely there,” he said. “Instead of trying to make the putts, I was trying to get it close. It plays with your mind. And I knew that Bob wasn’t going to go away.
“I hit some good shots out there, but I didn’t putt very well, because once again I left myself with some tricky putts on the wrong side of the hole.”
Berliner, one of the longest club pros in the area, admitted that his length helped on a day when the course played extra long because of hte rain.
“I was just trying to keep my driver in play, but I gave myself very few opportunities for birdies. My length definitely paid off today,” he said.
“I know it seemed like it was match play out there with Bob and myself, but I also had to worry about Ian [Breen] and some of the other guys out there. I was trying not to treat it like match play.
“This was a tough grind over two days,” he said. “This is very nice to bring the trophy back to Normanside for another year. This is still the top prize for the local pros. Anytime you can put your name on the same trophy that Gene Sarazen did, it’s something special.”
Mucha knew he let some chances get away from him.
“That was a big turnaround on 16 when I missed that birdie putt,” he said. “I really could have put some pressure on Scott if I was able to take the lead on that hole.
“On the 17th hole, I was on the side of a bunker with a bad lie. I wasn’t that unhappy with my shot, but I didn’t think I would three-putt.
“I think the wet course really hurt me today, because I was hitting 6-irons when Scott was hitting a wedge. It’s tough playing Scott, because he’s not going to back up. I’m the kind of guy who makes a lot of pars, and the course definitely played long today. But I’m happy with the way I played. I didn’t struggle, and I had just that one bad hole.”
Scott Berliner (Normanside CC) 71-142, $2,700; Bob Mucha (Greenock CC) 72-144, $2,300; Ian Breen (Colonie G&CC) 73-145, $1,900; David Strawn (Cranwell Resort) 74-147, $1,650; Peter Gerard (Mill Road Acres) 75-148, $1,275; Nathan Kain (The Edison Club) 75-148, $1,275; Anders Mattson (Saratoga National GC) 72-149, $950; Josh Hillman (Berkshire Hills CC) 74-150, $395; Frank Mellet (Colonie G&CC) 75-150, $395; Kevin Bennison (Taconic GC) 75-151; Tom Oppedisano (McGregor Links CC) 75-151; Rick Pohle (Taconic GC) 72-151; John Souza (Stadium GC) 77-152; Tom Sullivan (Wyantenuck CC) 80-152; Tom Siddon (Massena CC0 77-153; Kevin Hughes (Saratoga G&P) 76-153; Ron Philo Sr. (PGA Life Member) 80-158; Paul Jaycox (Cobleskill G&CC) 79-159; John Neet (Golf Galaxy) 82-159; Glenn Davis (Albany CC) 75-160; Steve Plata (Saratoga National GC) 79-161; Steve Vatter (Capital Hills at Albany) 85-162; Noel Gebauer (Town of Colonie GC) 84-166.