Wagner survives

MENOMINEE – A wild ride on the back nine left Jim Wagner facing 35 feet of green to stay alive in the Upper Peninsula Men’s Golf Association Senior Championship.

The first-round leader sank the long chip shot on the 18th green to force a playoff against Highland’s Mark Ray.

Wagner, representing the Little River Country Club, let loose with his biggest display of emotion during the two-day tournament, swinging his club with relief and joy and high-fiving his son Mike.

“I thought I probably had to make it to get in a playoff,” Wagner said of title-saving chip. “I told my son that I made a chip on 18 (Monday) so maybe I’ll make it today.”

Ray used his deft putting touch to drain a pressure-packed 8-foot putt after lofting a pitch onto the elevated green on the Par 3 10th to push the match to the par 5 17th hole.

After Wagner’s birdie try slipped past, the playoff seemed destined to go to the 18th hole.

But Wagner claimed the tournament trophy in his first try when Ray’s two-footer went wide.

Wagner and Ray finished regulation play with 149 totals.

“It’s great,” said Wagner. “This is one time that being a rookie is an advantage. I always wanted to win the U.P.’s (men’s title). I’ve been close a few times.”

Wagner started the day with a two-stroke lead and was locked and loaded to run away with the title after his birdie on No. 9 gave him a 35 on the front and three-stroke lead over Ray.

A double bogey on the 12th cut the lead to two strokes and Ray’s birdie on No. 13 pulled him even.

Stripling had the second-lowest round with his 75, while Ray finished with a 73. Eight championship flight golfers scored 80 or more in the second day of the tournament.

Ray, who was celebrating his 56th birthday, carried a two-stroke lead into the 18th. A short par putt that would have slammed the door on Wagner slid past the hole, leaving the window open for Wagner’s dramatic tourney-saving chip.

One of the first things Wagner did after the playoff win was offer to buy Ray a birthday drink.

“It could have been a great birthday,” said Ray. “I got beat by a great golfer. He had the opportunity to close it out, but he let us back in the tournament. I made some mistakes down the stretch.

CHAMPIONSHIP FLIGHT

Jim Wagner Little River

73-76 – 149

Mark Ray Highland

76-73 – 149

Wes Stripling Riverside

75-75 – 150

Mike Mansfield Riverside

76-75 – 151

Scott Saari Wawonowin

76-75 – 151

Tom Hammar Wawonowin 77-75 -152

Dale Bayer Wawonowin

76-78 – 154

Mike Brayak Highland

78-79 – 157

Larry Bratonia Irish Oaks 76-82 – 158

Steve Bratonia Gladstone 75-83 -158

Matt Smith Jr. Irish Oaks

79-80 – 159

Paul Soyatt Wild Bluff

76-83 – 159

Paul Bujold Pine Grove

77-84 – 161

Jeff McCall Terrace Bluff

79-82 – 161

Dave Gadowski Wawonowin 78-86 – 164

David Jahn Wild Bluff

75-90 – 165

Flight Champions

First Flight

Tom Zeni Escanaba C.C. 157

Second Flight

Keith Nelson Hunters Glen 167

Third Flight

Barry O’ Connor Munising 171

Fourth Flight

Rick Soder Newberry 179

Fifth Flight

Marvin Meyers Marquette 184

Sixth Flight

Charlie Miller Little River 192