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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA AMATEUR GOLF

Bollini Hangs On for Playoff Win

July 15, 2002|PETER YOON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nico Bollini lost his lead in the final round of the Southern California Golf Assn. Amateur Championship but did not lose his composure. He felt the title slipping away on the first 10 holes during the final round Sunday at El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana, but, his shirt drenched with sweat in mid-90s San Fernando Valley heat, he kept a cool head and prevailed.

Bollini, 19, from Yorba Linda, overcame a front-nine 40, shot two under on his last eight holes, then made a 12-foot eagle putt on the second playoff hole to defeat defending champion John Merrick of Long Beach and Mike Lavery of Irvine.

Bollini, the third-round leader at six under par, shot a four-over 75 Sunday for a four-day total of two-under 282.

Merrick closed with 70 and Lavery, who started the day 10 shots behind Bollini, had nine birdies in a 65 to force the first three-way playoff in the history of the 103-year-old tournament.

Bollini, a sophomore at USC, was a shot out of the lead after a double-bogey at No. 10 but regrouped with a birdie at No. 11 to get back on track.

"I had to wake up," said Bollini, who held a four-shot lead after three holes Sunday. "I needed to regroup. I knew I wasn't out of it, so I took that as a second chance. The key was that I never lost it emotionally. In the past I used to get hot-headed when that happens, but I've learned how to control my emotions."

Merrick, a junior at UCLA, birdied Nos. 11, 12 and 14 to take a one-shot lead. Bollini, playing a group behind Merrick, tied for the lead with a 20-foot birdie putt on No. 16. Lavery, a senior at UC Irvine, shot a back-nine 31, including a birdie on the 18th that got him into the playoff.

He missed an 18-foot par putt on the first playoff hole, however, and was knocked out.

Merrick and Bollini then went to the par-five first for the second playoff hole.

Bollini hit a booming, 330-yard drive to the right side of the fairway--his best drive of the day, he said--then faded a four-iron to about 15 feet and made the eagle putt to win.

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