31st Annual NCGA Master Division Championship
Spyglass Hill GC/Poppy Hills GC
June 18-19, 2012
June 19, 2012
by Spencer Sorensen
PEBBLE BEACH – For the past 20 years the NCGA Master Division Championship has eluded Jim Knoll’s grasp. Having finished runner-up four times in the event, Knoll finally broke through and captured his first win firing a 36-hole total of 141, three-under-par. His total was good enough to take a four-shot victory over the nearest competition as Nick Ushijima and Gary Vanier tied for second at one-over-par, 145.
Interestingly enough Knoll’s window of opportunity passed him at one point as the event only accommodated players ages 40 to 54, before the rule was changed after the 2008 tournament season, making him ineligible in 2007 and 2008. Now, just six weeks shy of his 60th birthday, Knoll has become the oldest ever to win the Master Division Championship and first senior player.
“For a while when I turned 54, I never thought I’d be able to play this event again,” he said. “As luck would have it, I made some pars today and snuck in there to win.”
Knoll’s round was an interesting one. Amazingly he made no birdies on the day, yet he did make eagle on the par-5 ninth and only had one blemish, a bogey on the fifth, to go along with 16 pars. His eagle on the ninth proved to be extremely important as he came into the hole tied with first round leader Jeff Hoffman, who was two-over for the day at the time. Knoll piped his drive down the middle of the short par-5 leaving him with a 6-iron left in, which he hit to 15 feet and sank the eagle putt. Hoffman on the other hand struggled on the hole and ended up making a bogey-6, a three shot difference.
“That was a huge swing for me, just to be able to gain momentum and go into the back nine making all pars,” said Knoll.
The Sunnyvale resident has been arguably the hottest NCGA player around having won his fourth NCGA major in the past 15 months and first of 2012. Knoll’s not sure how to explain his recent success as of late, but acknowledges a lot of it has had to do with good ball-striking and putting.
“Maybe this win will spur me on and I’ll be able to contend in the upcoming NCGA majors,” he said.
Runner-up finishers Ushijima and Vanier posted scores of 71 and 72 respectively. Ushijima, who started the day in a tie for 10th place, looked as if he was going to be moving down the leaderboard and not up it as he started with a bogey on the first hole and a double-bogey on the fifth hole. However, after a slow start, the Hillsborough resident went four-under his final 13 holes with birdies on Nos. 6, 9, 14 and 16. Vanier, who started the day in a tie for fifth place, shot even-par with four bogeys and four birdies. His birdies came on Nos. 8, 10, 16 and 18.
First round leader Jeff Hoffman of Folsom dropped to a tie for fifth place, following yesterday’s three-under 69 with a five-over 77. Defending champion Darin Lake withdrew after yesterday’s first round score of seven-over 79.
June 18, 2012
by Spencer Sorensen
PEBBLE BEACH – Jeff Hoffman of Folsom fired a three-under par 69 at Spyglass Hill Monday to take the 18-hole lead in the NCGA Master Division Championship. Hoffman’s round was one of only two under-par scores on the day, which featured seven birdies to go along with four bogeys. After opening with a birdie on the first hole, Hoffman got in trouble on the front-nine par-3s with bogeys on Nos. 3 and 5. His round turned around for the better quickly though, as he reeled off five birdies and no bogeys over an eight hole stretch. Starting with a birdie on the seventh, Hoffman would go on to birdie Nos. 9, 11, 13 and 14 to get to four-under par. The key to that stretch wasn’t one of the holes he birdied, however, instead it was the par he was able to salvage on the uphill par-4 eighth hole. After hitting his ball up against a trunk of a tree to the right of the fairway, Hoffman was able to get his ball on the green about 70 feet away, where he then two-putted for par.
“That recovery shot really kept me going because I had just birdied No. 7 and I didn’t want to give it right back,” said Hoffman, who finished his round with bogeys on 16 and 18 and a birdie on 17.
Hoffman, 50, played in his first Master Division Championship 10 years ago, where he finished second to Randy Haag that year. While he regularly competes in this event, he hasn’t been in contention in a few years and doesn’t know how to explain the change in fortune.
“It’s actually interesting because I haven’t played much golf in the past month,” he said. “It was nice just to come out and enjoy the golf course without much expectation.”
Close behind Hoffman is 2011 NCGA Senior Player of the Year and current senior points’ leader Jim Knoll at two-under par 70. Knoll, explained his round as consistent, and said his iron play helped him post an under-par round. The Sunnyvale resident has yet to win an NCGA Master Division Championship and would like to add one to his resume. One thing that may work in his favor is having played in the NCGA Senior Four-Ball Championship at Poppy Hills for three straight days last week, so he’s very familiar with how the course is playing.
“[The seniors] might have an advantage, but we still have to play well enough to take advantage of it,” said Knoll.
Joining Hoffman and Knoll in the final pairing will be Randy Haag and Jaime Looper, who each posted even-par rounds of 72. Haag, a three-time winner of this event (’99, ’02 and ’09), had a very back-and-forth round with five bogeys and five birdies on the day. After bogeying the third and fifth holes, Haag made birdie on No. 6, but bogeyed No. 9 to go out with a 38. On the back nine the six-time NCGA Player of the Year, converted birdies on Nos. 10, 11, 14 and 17, while dropping shots on Nos. 12 and 18, to come in with a 34. Looper, who was paired with Knoll Monday, started the day with a birdie on the first hole, but bogeyed No. 6 and double-bogeyed No. 9. The 2008 Master Division Champion recovered nicely on the back nine with birdies on Nos. 10, 11 and 14, with his lone bogey coming on the 13th.
Also, not to be counted out are five players at one-over 73: Frank Pieper, Ross Brownlie, Jason Melvin, Dana Jetter and 1998 Master Division Champion Gary Vanier. Four more players stand in a tie for 10th at two-over 74, while five others are tied for 13th at three-over 75. Defending champion Darin Lake, struggled Monday with a seven-over par 79 and currently sits in a tie for 34th place. The final round will take place tomorrow at Poppy Hills GC with the first tee time at 7:30 a.m.