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WACO Golf Tournament

August 16, 1999|By LARRY YANOS

Sinking a 40-footer for par is a real confidence builder.

Finley Benjamin turned in such an effort on the first hole of the Beaver Creek Country Club Golf Course Sunday afternoon en route to winning the 16th annual Washington County Open Golf Championship.

[cont. from sports page]

The 48-year-old Benjamin fired a 72 Sunday and finished with a 36-hole total of 143, two shots better than Chris Cantone.

The two are both Beaver Creek Country Club members and were teammates on the 1999 squad which won the Maryland State Golf Association-sponsored team championship.

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Tracy Piper finished third with a 146 and Sam Corden had a 147.

Benjamin, Cantone and Corden shared the lead entering Sunday's round - all shooting 71 on Saturday- but it was Benjamin and Cantone who battled it out for the championship.

"The first hole, that without a doubt, was the key to victory," the Frederick County resident Benjamin said. "That really boosted my confidence and kept me going all day."

Benjamin hit his tee shot to the right on the first hole, punched out, and then hit another iron before making the dramatic par-saving chip shot with a wedge.

"I was 40 feet from the pin and I made a perfect chip shot, it went right into the hole," Benjamin said.

Benjamin and Cantone battled on even terms through the first nine holes and Cantone took a two-shot advantage with birdies on No. 10 and No. 11.

The 27-year-old Cantone bogeyed No. 13 and No. 14 as Benjamin tied matters with pars and the eventual champion then took command with a par on No. 16 as Cantone suffered another bogey.

The two golfers both parred No. 17 and Cantone bogeyed No. 18 and Benjamin finished with a par.

The victory, though, didn't come easy.

While Cantone hit a beautiful shot off the 18th tee, Benjamin pulled his drive to the right and almost out of bounds.

He stood on the golf path while hitting his second shot but he laid the ball just short of the green, used his putter to get to within two feet of the hole and sank the clinching putt.

"My only concern there was I wanted to hit the ball short of the green," Benjamin said of his clutch sedcond shot. "I knew I had a decent lie, there was some grass underneath the ball, and I didn't want to hit it long."

Both second shots by Benjamin and Cantone landed at practically the same spot, just short of the green.

Cantone pushed his putt 12 feet past the cup in hopes of sinking the long birdie putt and settled for a bogey.

Benjamin said, in addition to the par-saving chip on No. 1, there was another key to victory.

"I was relaxed, the first time in my life," Benjamin said. "I hit the ball good and got up and down. And I wasn't concerned when I got the lead on No. 16. I just played 17 and 18 the way I did Saturday."

Cantone, a Berkeley Springs, W.Va. resident, had no regrets.

"I thought I played pretty well," Cantone said. "I was a little inconsistent, maybe nerves had something to do with that, but I have no complaints."

Cantone had bogeys on No. 13, No. 14, No. 16 and No. 18 and birdies on No. 10, 11 and 15 while Benjamin had bogeys on No. 3 and No. 4 and birdies on No. 2 and No. 12.

"I didn't change my game today (Sunday)," Cantone said. "I knew I would have to play well to win. "When he (Benjamin) took the lead on 16, it didn't change my thinking."

Cantone had a previous third-place finish in his WACO resume while Benjamin had not fared well in previous appearances.

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