Dave Rasley, on a losing track through the middle of the afternoon round, got a grip on his game and his emotions with back-to-back birdies, and went on to defeat Kirk Lombardi, 2-up, in the 74th Maryland State Golf Association Men's Amateur championship yesterday at Hillendale Country Club.
The two past champions staged a seesaw battle most of the way in what had to be the best-played final in years. The two totaled 16 birdies.
Through the grueling four days of play, Lombardi said he was confident. "I was playing well, and knew I'd be tough to beat," he said.
The winner agreed: "He's a great competitor. He got my best," said Rasley.
At the end, the margin was two short chip shots that 1988 winner Lombardi, from Norbeck CC, absolutely had to have -- and they didn't come off. The first was from just off No. 17, their 35th hole, where the ball ran 8 feet past the cup, then slid by coming back.
Rasley, from Lakewood CC, two-putted for par and his first lead since the 28th hole.
At the 531-yard, par-5 finishing hole, both were on the back fringe in 3. Lombardi's shot rolled 5 feet beyond the cup, and Rasley's stopped 18 inches right of the hole.
Lombardi could have put a little pressure on his opponent by making his next putt, but the ball lipped out. "I should have putted that ball at 17 and played for par," Lombardi said. "At 18, it came off a little too strong."
Rasley said: "I hated to see him miss that last putt." It meant an anticlimax, and "I was putting too good to miss mine."
All even after the morning round, Rasley, the 1992 champ, protected a 2-up lead through the last five holes of the afternoon front nine.
As quickly as it took to play the next three holes, Lombardi went from 2-down to 1-up. Rasley lost a ball in the trees at No. 10, a 360-yard wretched dogleg of a hole, and conceded No. 11 to slip back to even. Lombardi did the rest when he birdied the 12th from 12 feet past the hole.
Rasley said he had been under control on the third nine, but after those three holes, he did not exude confidence. "I decided that was enough of that. Still, it didn't look good," he said.
Their play at No. 13, a 492-yard downhill hole where the green is reachable with two good shots, was indicative of how well these two finalists played. Lombardi, with 214 to the pin, hit a 3-iron shot in the middle of the green and two-putted for birdie. Rasley came up short in the rough between fairway and green, pitched to 8 feet and ran in his birdie putt.