SCHENECTADY – The fiercest rivalry in major Schenectady County golf is alive and well.
Three-time Schenectady Senior Classic champion Paul Pratico registered a 66 (-6) to secure a one-shot lead over his archrival, three-time defending titlist Jim Mueller, Thursday at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course.
Pratico, 55, is a former pro and the 2016 New York State Senior Amateur champion. He’s also won six Schenectady Classic championships, giving him nine Schenectady County major championships. Mueller, who won his eighth Schenectady Classic crown in a two-hole playoff over Lance Hope in June, has 12 Schenectady County major trophies.
It shapes up as a two-horse race in Friday’s final round, although three other players – former champion Tony Cristello, perennial runner-up Dave Sutphen and area newcomer Lucas Sirois – also broke par with 70 and are looming behind the lead group if anyone falters.
Glenn Stopera and Jay Taub shot even-par 72; 23 players made the cut at 78 or better.
REBOUNDING FROM BETHPAGE
Pratico is playing the Schenectady Senior Classic after already playing three exhausting rounds at the New York State Amateur on Bethpage State Park’s famed Black Course earlier this week. He played one practice round and then shot rounds of 82-84 to miss the cut at 24-over-par 166. He drove home Wednesday night to be ready for his 9 a.m. tee time at Schenectady Municipal.
“It feels great to be back home,” Pratico said. “Three days at Bethpage meant a lot of walking for me, and in a way, it helped me, because I’m in a lot better shape for this tournament,” he said. “The scoring at Bethpage was brutal. There were so many holes where you had to carry the ball a long way off the tee just to reach the fairway. Bethpage is a young man’s course. Here at Muni, a lot of different age groups can play well.”
Last year’s New York State Senior Amateur champion rolled in seven birdies on holes 1, 2, 9, 12 13, 14 and 16. His only bogey was a three-putt on the tough par-4 eighth hole.
“The greens here at Muni are receptive, and they are rolling great,” Pratico said. “The course also played a little shorter from the white tees. It was a very scoreable course today.”
MUELLER ONE BACK
Mueller, Pratico’s longtime nemesis, is only a stroke behind and is ready for another duel in the final round.
“I played very solidly after a slow start,” Mueller said. “I hit my tee shot behind a tree on the first hole and ended up with a bogey. Then I hit another terrible drive on the [par-5] second hole, but I managed to get up and down for par. But it felt like a bogey.”
Mueller rebounded with birdies on the third, fifth and ninth holes on the front and then tacked on three more birdies – all on the par-5s – on the back nine. “All three players in our group [including Pratico and Mike Drake] were playing very well. It’s fun to play when everybody is playing well,” Mueller said. “I like to see good shots. I had to hit some good shots myself just to stay close to the lead.”
Sutphen, 67, registered six birdies and hit nearly every green in regulation during his consistent round. The Pinehaven CC member has finished runner-up twice in the Schenectady Senior Classic. “I was hitting the ball very close to the pin all day,” Sutphen said.
Cristello, also from Pinehaven CC, hit 15 greens and posted five birdies. “I missed two three-footers for birdie, but or the most part, I played very well. My score could have been even lower today,” he said.
Sirois, 52, is a cardiology technician at Ellis Hospital. Originally from Connecticut, the McNee State graduate moved to the area about eight years ago and is playing in his first major event at Schenectady Muni. He birdied the fourth, 12th and 14th holes.
Taub and Stopera have both been runner-ups in the Schenectady Senior Classic before. Stopera rebounded from a 40 on the front nine with four birdies on the back nine for a 32.
66 (-6): Paul Pratico
67 (-5): Jim Mueller
70 (-2): Dave Sutphen, Lucas Sirois, Tony Cristello
72 (E): Glenn Stopera, Jay Taub
74 (+2): Mario Marino
75 (+3): Bob Cooper, Neil Chambers
76 (+4): Jeff Barringer, Jim Reid, Mike Carroll, Mike Drake, Mike Mina
77 (+5): John Reagan, Peter Andrikopoulos, Todd Trepess
78 (+6): Glenn Coons, Mark Compton, Paul Hart, Pete Davis, Ronny Cohen
Missed the cut: Don Blaha 79, Kevin Halburian 79, Kevin Dwyer 79, Don Dobbs 80, Joe DeLorenzo 80, Mike Pollock 80, Hank Haase 81, Mike Bayus 81, Bill Paulsen Jr. 82, Chris Fatone 82, Patrick Meehan 82, Ronald Anzalone 82, Jim Fazio 84, Carl Gilbert 85, Joe Lazzari 85, Peter Maioriello 85, Armand Amedore 86, Don Bibby 86, Paul Toth 86, Joe Daley 87, Tom Higgins 87, Tom Nasadoski 87, Joe Genovesi 89 Moe Mroczkowski 90, Rick Lackey 90, Frank DeGraw 92, Mike DiGilormao 92, Atiba Fadhilika-Weza WD
7:00 – Pete Davis, Ronny Cohen
7:10 – Mark Compton, Paul Hart, Glenn Coons
7:20 – Peter Andrikopoulos, John Reagan, Todd Trepess
7:30 – Mike Carroll, Mike Mina, Mike Drake
7:40 – Neil Chambers, Jim Reid, Jeff Barringer
7:50 – Glenn Stopera, Bob Cooper, Mario Marino
8:00 – Tony Cristello, Lucas Sirois, Jay Taub
8:10 – Paul Pratico, Jim Mueller, Dave Sutphen