Jim Mueller couldn’t afford to coast in the final round of the Gazette Senior County Amateur.
So he went full throttle, instead.
With three-time defending champion Paul Pratico nipping at his heels on the front nine, Mueller followed up his brilliant opening-round 66 with a stellar 67 to finish the two-day event with an impressive 11-under-par total of 133 and a four-shot cushion over Pratico Friday at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course.
It was the first Senior County Am crown for Mueller, who has an all-time record seven regular County Am titles.
Pratico was nearly flawless with his iron play, but he couldn’t get his putter to cooperate. He shot a crisp 68 in the final round, but ended up losing ground to Mueller, whose short game kept him out of trouble all day.
“My short game was very good this week,” said the 55-year-old Mueller. “I chip the ball a little differently than most people do. I like to bump-and-run it, and have it check on the green. Also, I don’t use my lob wedge. I use my 54-degree wedge for all of my chip shots.”
Mueller said he couldn’t afford to play conservatively with so many players in the field capable of pouring in birdies.
“There was no coasting today,” he said. “These guys are the same guys I was competing against every year in the County Amateur. Paul and Jay [Taub] were making a lot of birdies out there, so when you see others doing it, it’s a little easier doing it yourself.”
Mueller had surgery on one of his knees last year, and he will soon have surgery on the other one.
“I was in a little pain, but it wasn’t bad,” he said. “I’m still a little sore. But I prefer to walk. I play my best when I walk. Actually, I prefer to carry my own bag, but my doctor told me to use a pullcart.”
Mueller started the day with a three-shot lead over Pratico, his main nemesis over the last couple of decades. He knocked in a two-foot birdie on the par-5 second hole after reaching it in two, and rolled in a 27-foot bird on the fourth hole. Although he two-putted for birdie on the par-5 ninth hole, he actually lost a stroke to Pratico, who nailed a 70-foot eagle putt.
But Mueller soon rebuilt his lead on the back. He birdied the 12th, 15th and 16th holes, and made key up-and-downs on both the 10th and 17th holes to hold off Pratico.
“I played very well this week, and it feels very good to finally get a Senior County Amateur title,” said Mueller, whose only bogey in the final round was a three-putt from the fringe on the par-3 third hole.
Pratico was thwarted in his attempt to become the first player to win four Gazette-sponsored tournaments in a row.
Although he birdied the second hole and collected that eagle on No. 9, he missed several short birdie putts that would have inched him closer to Mueller. He missed a two-foot birdie try on the 15th hole and a four-footer on the 16th.
“The 15th hole was a real turning point, because I missed that short one, and Jimmy makes his birdie on the same hole,” said Pratico.
“My iron play was phenomenal all week, and I didn’t shoot bad scores, but I just couldn’t make all the putts I wanted to. I wanted to keep the pressure on Jimmy, but I guess I knew it wasn’t my day when my birdie putt hit the cup and rolled out on the very first hole.
“Jimmy played great all week. There isn’t much you can do when you go up against somebody who was on fire like he was.”
Taub finished third with a solid round of 72 that included three birdies. His undoing was a double bogey on the par-5 12th hole.
“I should have punched out on that hole after I missed my drive to the right,” he said. “I tried to get too much out of that hole. But those two guys are very hard to catch. In my opinion, Jim and Paul have been the top two players in our area for many years. I was just happy to be in the same conversation with them in this tournament.”
The top 10 finishers received gift certificates from the Muny pro shop, as did the three age-division winners: 50-59 (Andy Bennett), 60-69 (Angelo Menagias) and
70-plus (John Whalen).
Jim Mueller 67-133, Paul Pratico 68-137, Jay Taub 72-143, Tony Cristello, 72-146, Glenn Stopera 75-149, Dave Sutphen 76-150, Mike Carroll 76-150, John Reagan 72-150, Mark Compton 73-151, Kenny Hall 78-154, Andy Bennett 79-155, Mike Pollock 76-155, Tom Gatta 76-155, David Billman 77-156, Neil Chambers 78-158, Peter Andrikopoulos 79-159, Dave Hwaszcz 82-161, Bruce Barach 81-161, Harry Morgan 84-163, Angelo Menagias WD.