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Familiar final pair to play for city title

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As Joe Tufo’s slick, 20-foot downhill putt was about five feet from the hole on the 17th green Saturday at Ives Hill Country Club, he raised his arms high.

When the ball gently rolled into the cup, signifying a birdie 3 and the end to his 2013 City Men’s Golf Championships semifinal match with James Ambrose, Tufo breathed a huge sigh of relief.

The 2003 champion is back in the championship match again, his seventh foray into the finals, where he will meet Mr. City Golf, 11-time winner Bob Hughes, in today’s scheduled 36-hole finals.

“It’s always a pleasure to play Bob,” said Tufo after knocking off 2009 champion Ambrose 3 and 1. “He’s got me both times we’ve played before, so many it’s my time this time.”

Hughes, back in the finals for the first time since losing in successive years (2008, 2009), knocked off former champion and medalist Adam Brown 4 and 3 to set up his rematch with Tufo.

Hughes bested Tufo, his current Watertown Golf Club teammate, in 1998 and 2002.

“Joe’s so consistent, and he doesn’t make many mistakes,” said Hughes, who last won a city crown in 2002. “He beat me on the 20th hole last year (in the quarterfinals), so I owe him one.”

Both Tufo and Hughes sank several key putts to set up their latest championship match-up.

Tufo was clinging to a 2 up lead when he holed clutch 10-foot par putts on holes 14 and 15 to retain his lead.

“That putt on 17 was great,” said Tufo, who also finished second in 1999, 2005 and 2011. “But those two on 14 and 15 were even bigger because if he wins them it’s a new match and anything can happen.”

Hughes rolled in a key 20-footer for birdie on the par-5 13th hole while holding a 1 up advantage, while Brown missed a five-footer to halve the hole.

“Being 1 up is so much different than being even,” said Hughes, who also sunk key birdie putts on 4 and 7 to win holes. “It was a bit sloppy today and I’ll certainly have to be sharper tomorrow.”

Ambrose seized an early 2 up advantage over Tufo by winning No. 2 with a birdie and No. 3 with a par. But he didn’t win another hole after taking the fifth hole with a par 4.

Tufo gained ground with a nice birdie 3 on No. 6 then also won seven with a par to get back to even.

Even heading to the back nine, Ambrose saw the match get away from him quickly. He drove in the hazard on 10 and made a double-bogey 5, and also lost No. 11 with a bogey.

“I hit it good enough to win, but just didn’t make enough putts,” Ambrose said. “And I had some good opportunities.”

After 12 and 13 were halved, Tufo salvaged a great par 4 on No. 14 from off the green, and did the same on the par-3 15th with Ambrose ready to make easy pars on both holes.

“Those were daggers,” Ambrose said of Tufo’s two big par putts.

Tufo said both of those putts “broke about the same and were really fast. Fortunately, I read them both right and had just the right speed.”

On 17, Tufo said he knew he couldn’t hit his birdie putt hard “because it would just roll off the green. But halfway there I said to myself, ‘Why not.’’’

The Hughes-Brown match turned at the end of the front nine when Hughes birdied No. 7 to take a 1 up lead and Brown three-putted No. 8 to miss a chance at getting back even.

The 10th hole, with a diabolical front left pin placement, was a nightmare for Brown. He settled for a triple-bogey 6 with a poor tee shot left of the green while Hughes also struggled to make a bogey.

Hughes gave a shot back on 11 when he drove into the hazard left and made a bogey. But he drained his long birdie attempt on 13 and Brown could not make his from a much shorter distance.

Brown also lost 14 when his tee shot sailed out of bounds right. The match ended when he could not get up and down for par after missing the 15th green.

“I didn’t convert on a handful of good chances, and Bob did. That was the difference,” Brown said. “If you make some putts once you get to this far in the tournament, it’s tough to win.”

Said Hughes, making his record 18th finals appearance: “Your goal when you start the week is always to make it to Sunday, so that never gets old.”

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