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Local golf: 1984 finalists Hughes, Phillips meet again in city final

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Who says golf is a young man’s game?

Thirty years after a thrilling battle for the City Men’s Golf Championship, grizzled veterans Bob Hughes and Tim Phillips will again go head-to-head for the area’s most prestigious title.

Hughes, a record 12-time champion who is looking for back-to-back crowns, earned his spot in the final Saturday with a dominating 5 and 4 victory over Michael Burgess at Watertown Golf Club.

Phillips, who won that battle with Hughes way back in 1984 to claim his only city crown, had a tougher time beating 2009 winner and this year’s medalist, James Ambrose. Phillips needed a clutch birdie putt on the 15th hole to take the lead for good in an up-and-down match and went on to post a 2 and 1 win in the second semifinal.

Today’s 36-hole final was scheduled for a 7:50 a.m. start.

For the two competitors, it’s a fond look back to when both of their careers were just beginning.

“We were just youngsters and trying to make a name for ourselves,” said Phillips, who has not made another final since then. “What I remember most about that day is that I got off to a big lead — I was 4 up after 18 and still 4 up eight holes into the afternoon match — when Bobby caught fire. He made four birdies and an eagle over the next five holes and all of a sudden I’m one down.”

Phillips went on to regain the lead with birdies on 14 and 15, then holed a 20-foot putt on 17 to eventually win the match.

Said Hughes, who has won a remarkable 11 of his 12 titles since 1984 and has finished runner-up two other times, “We both played really well that day. I thought I was out of it, then went on that hot streak. But Tim came right back, and that bomb he made to win is still vivid in my mind as if it were yesterday.”

Hughes played his most consistent round of the week against Burgess, the 20th seed who had already knocked off two higher seeded players.

After seizing the lead with a short birdie putt on No. 2, Hughes added a birdie 3 on the ninth hole from short range and made the turn 3 up.

He gave his only shot back with a bogey on the 10th. But Hughes got that back when Burgess could not get up-and-down in front of the 12th green. Hughes then closed out the match with solid birdie putts on 13 and 14.

“My swing was a lot looser today for some reason,” Hughes said. “It was freer, and some of the tension was gone.”

Hughes still hasn’t made his usual number of putts. “Hopefully, that will come tomorrow,” he said.

For Burgess, the end of the line came from a balky putter. “You have to get the ball in the hole at least a few times because you know Bob will make some birdies. I really didn’t come close to a birdie today.”

After hitting the ball poorly in his Friday quarterfinal win over Andrew Marks, Phillips used a new pre-shot routine Saturday.

“Somehow, it got me hitting the ball a lot more solidly,” he said. “So I guess I’ll just stay with it.”

A fast start, which saw Phillips win the first two holes with birdies, also helped. But Ambrose got back to even after nine as Phillips bogeyed No. 4 and drove out of bounds on six.

Ambrose, who never led in his quarterfinal match against John Bufalini until the final hole, took his initial lead against Phillips with a par-5 on 10 as Phillips bogeyed from behind the green.

Ambrose lost 11 and 12 with what he called “careless bogeys” before Phillips three-putted 13 to bring the match back to all square.

Phillips hit his approach to 10 feet on 15 and finally sunk a longer putt for birdie to regain the lead for good.

After 16 was halved with pars, Ambrose was unable to make par from just off the 17th green. Phillips lagged to six inches for the win.

“More bogeys than birdies today. That’s a bad combination,” Ambrose said. “The ones on 11 and 12 really hurt because I had finally taken the lead.”

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