BY JEFF FALK
FREDERICKSBURG – If the 60th annual Lebanon County Amateur golf tournament was a horse race, a talented field consisting of varying experience levels and pedigrees would be bunched at the top of the stretch.
Currently, John DiGiacomo has a nose in front. But as the competitors head for home, it should be a wild and intriguing ride to the finish line.
On a damp Saturday at Blue Moutain Golf Course’s 6,059-yard, par-71 track, during the opening round of the County Amateur, DiGiacomo fired a two-under par 69 to forge a precarious advantage over a lurkng field of 33. DiGiacomo parlayed a hot start into a one-shot advantage over tournament director Justin Arnt and hungry up-and-comer Tyler Massar.
Also very much in striking distance are defending champion Dan Brown and steady Steve Allwein, who both posted first-round, even-par scores of 71. Another two strokes back are a group that features the dangerous Chris Gebhard and Blue Mountain regular Dave Albright.
Former champions Jim Gardner and Bill Massar, Jr. carded three-over par 74s, as did Jordan Rhen.
Sunday’s final round, which will get underway at 8 a.m., should produce a ‘low-round-wins’ scenario.
“You can go really low on this course,” said DiGiacomo, who won this event 17 years ago at Royal Oaks. “There’s a 64 or a 65 out there. You’re going to have to take it low tomorrow. Someone’s going to come in. I think 65 will definitely win it, whether it’s me or somebody else. You have that many good players close to the lead.”
“It’s nice to be in the last group, but there’s good players behind us,” said Arnt. “You can’t count players out. You just don’t know. It’s not just the final group. There’s a crowded leaderboard, which is what you expect.”
“I’m looking forward to tomorrow,” said T. Massar. “I want to stay aggressive and stay confident, and try to win it.”
DiGiacomo gained his edge on the 306-yard, par-four 18th hole by chipping close and sinking a foot-long birdie putt. It served as a nice recovery from back-to-back bogeys on the par-five 15th and the par-three 16th.
“I’m still trying to figure it out,” said DiGiacomo of his success. “I wasn’t thinking. I was just trying to stay dry. I was hitting it pretty decent on the back, but the putts stopped going in.
“I feel like I’m more competitive with myself,” added DiGiacomo. “I try not to think about things too much. I’m just glad to be on the golf course and having fun. Even if I shoot 78 tomorrow, I’ll feel like I’m a lucky person.”
DiGiacomo opened his day with back-to-back-to-back birdies at the par-four first hole, the par-three second and the par-four third. He lost one to par with a bogey at the par-three fifth, then got it back with an eight-foot birdie at the 530-yard, par-five eighth hole.
DiGiacomo made the turn at three-under par.
“The history of this event is cool, but I feel like I’ve done it before,” said DiGiacomo. “I don’t feel like I have to do it again. There’s no pressure. If I didn’t have the title, I’d feel differently.
“I guess it (prevailing on Sunday) would make me feel like I was as good as I was in high school,” DiGiacomo added. “I’m starting to feel like an old man.”
With seven birdies, six pars, four bogeys and a double bogey, Arnt’s round was much more up and down. He too made the turn at three-under par, after knocking home short birdie attempts at par-four third and par-five fourth holes, and sticking a 15-footer at the par-five eighth.
Arnt’s round began with a 40-foot birdie at the 357-yard, par-four first hole.
“I hit the ball well and got up and down,” said Arnt. “When you get off to a good start I think you become a little more conservative, you err on the safe side. You don’t want to be above the hole here.
“I feel like my game is always there,” Arnt continued. “It’s staying in the moment. If you have a bad hole, you move on. Obviously it would be special to win this as the director.”
Arnt went a combined two-over par at what he called ‘Blue Mountains’ Amen Corner’ – numbers 10, 11 and 12. Then he endured a three-putt double bogey at the par-five 15th and a bogey at the par-three 16th.
But Arnt finished strong, using his driver to set up short birdie putts at the par-four 17th and the par-four 18th.
“There was a stretch from ten-to-13 that was pretty challenging,” said Arnt. “But it was the same for everybody.
“Tomorrow’s going to be a challenge. A big challenge,” Arnt continued. “I’ve been in this position before, but I haven’t come out on the right end. But I have the experience.”
The highlights of T. Massar’s 70 were a pair of chip-in eagles. He drained one at the par-four third hole and another from above the hole at the par-four 17th.
“My putter really let me down,” said T. Massar. “I missed a lot of puts under ten feet. My putting is usually strong. But chipping in twice helped me out.
“We played three or four holes in the rain, but the course conditions were great,” added T. Massar. “I wanted to keep in play, stay on the right side of the hole and make par.”
T. Massar was three-over par approaching the tee at the 447-yard, par-five 13th hole. But he rolled in a short birdie putt there and a 12-footer at the par-five 15th, before placing an exclamation point on his round with his second eagle.
“I was three-over par on the 13th tee,” said T. Massar, whose best County Amateur finish is a third. “I thought to myself, ‘I’ve got two options. I can go the wrong way or play myself into contention.’
“I gained a lot of confidence in the last year,” T. Massar added. “My partner and I finished third at the Sullivan (better-ball) and I got my first win at the match-play event (at Lebanon Country Club in October). I’m hoping to compete. I’m going to stay confident.”
Thanks to birdies at numbers eight and nine, Brown made the turn at two-under par. But the defending champion endured a double bogey at the par-three 16th.
Allwein was three-over par before scoring birdies at the par-five 13th, the par-five 15th and the par-four 17th.
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60th Annual Lebanon County Amateur Golf Championship
(at 6,059-yard, par-71 Blue Mountain Golf Course)
Saturday’s Results (Sunday’s Tee Time in parentheses)
John DiGiacomo 69 (9:20 a.m.)
Justin Arnt 70 (9:20 a.m.)
Tyler Massar 70 (9:20 a.m.)
Dan Brown 71 (9:20 a.m.)
Steve Allwein 71 (9:10 a.m.)
Dave Albright 73 (9:10 a.m.)
Chris Gebhard 73 (9:10 a.m.)
Jim Gardner 74 (9:10 a.m.)
Bill Massar, Jr. 74 (9 a.m.)
Jordan Rhen 74 (9 a.m.)
Blaine Weaver 75 (9 a.m.)
Tom Kintzer 75 (9 a.m.)
Skeet Wentling 75 (8:50 a.m.)
Tony Deraco 76 (8:50 a.m.)
Darren Lutz 76 (8:50 a.m.)
Perry Umlaut 77 (8:50 a.m.)
Ryan Woelfling 77 (8:40 a.m.)
Matt Shirk 77 (8:40 a.m.)
Kyle Hoffert 78 (8:40 a.m.)
Steve Sherk 78 (8:40 a.m.)
Mat Rowe 78 (8:30 a.m.)
Eric Boltz 78 (8:30 a.m.)
Jon Day 79 (8:30 a.m.)
Blake Reifsnyder 79 (8:30 a.m.)
Kerry Wentling 80 (8:20 a.m.)
Chuck Schwab 80 (8:20 a.m.)
Jon Hurst 81 (8:20 a.m.)
Jim Pesta 81 (8:10 a.m.)
Chris Padovani 82 (8:10 a.m.)
Jeff Hoke 83 (8:10 a.m.)
Chris Baez 83 (8 a.m.)
Bruce Weaver, Jr. 85 (8 a.m.)
Steve O’Neal 85 (8 a.m.)
Lebanon County Amateur Golf Championship
1989 — Joe Faller, 146, MV