Bob Mucha’s magical short game was the difference in the Northeastern New York PGA Match Play Championship Friday at Albany Country Club.
The Greenock Country Club head pro may have been fortunate to reach the finals through a semifinal bye, but his outstanding pitches and chips, coupled with a hot putter, lifted him to a 3-and-2 victory over Frank Mellet of Colonie Golf & Country Club.
It was Mucha’s first section major.
“I’ve been second a number of times, but this feels great to finally win one,” said Mucha. “I haven’t putted this well in a long time. I’ve been streaky, but I don’t think I’ve put together this many good putts in a row.”
“Obviously, Bob’s putting was incredible,” said Mellet. “Good for him. That’s what it takes to win a tournament like this. You’ve got to make your putts. He demonstrated that he could make the putts all day, and there is no way around it.”
Mucha won his first two matches over Kevin Hughes of Saratoga Golf & Polo Club and Tom Sullivan of Wyantenuck Country Club on the first day of the rain-delayed tournament Thursday, but he earned an automatic trip to the finals when defending champion and reigning NENYPGA Player of the Year Scott Berliner of Normanside Country Club had to withdraw because of a prior commitment.
Mellet, the 2010 NENYPGA Player of the Year and a two-time Match Play titlist, beat Paul Jaycox of Cobleskill Golf & Country Club and Anders Mattson of Saratoga National in the first two rounds before defeating Stadium Golf Club head pro John Souza, 4-and-3, in Friday morning’s semifinals.
Mellet, who was inducted into the section’s Hall of Fame this spring, began his final match against Mucha just about 20 minutes after stopping Souza, and it was apparent that the semifinals helped keep his swing in top form.
Mellet hit eight of nine greens in regulation in the front nine, but he couldn’t shake Mucha, who saved par five times on the front side.
Mucha parred the opening hole with a two-putt from the fringe, made an outstanding sand save on the second hole and then chipped under some tree branches to within 10 feet for another sensational par-saver on the fourth hole, when he took a 1-up lead.
“I think making all those par putts early on set the tone. If you make three or four early, you feel you can make everything,” said Mucha.
Mellet missed his only green on that hole, but he nearly got up and down from the bunker, only to have his par putt lip out.
One of the keys to the match was on the difficult par-3 fifth hole. Mellet had a chance to square the match when reached that uphill green in regulation, and Mucha came up short. Mucha’s pitch shot was also short, and as was his par putt. But he saved bogey by making a twisting 10-footer. Mellet ended up with a three-putt bogey and failed to take advantage.
Mucha also saved par on the sixth hole. He failed to extend his lead on the seventh hole when his eight-foot birdie putt lipped out, and he also missed a birdie putt from about six feet on the par-5 eighth hole when the ball circled the hole and came back out.
Mucha closed out the front nine by making another sand save on the par-3 ninth hole.
Although he made the only birdie of the match on the 10th hole, Mellet’s game wasn’t as sharp on the back, and Mucha gradually pulled away.
“I’m not unhappy with the way I played,” said Mellet. “My long game is in good shape, and I feel strong. I’m hitting it well. I just didn’t make my putts today. I’m optimistic about my game. I’ve had my share of being in the finals in the Match Play, and I’ve won a couple of them. All you can do is try to get into the finals and hope you’re the guy who is making the putts.”