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Jeremy DeBernardi (right) shakes hands with Troy Bauer after DeBernardi beat Bauer in a one-hole playoff to win the Illinois Valley Men’s Golf Championship on Sunday at Mendota Golf Club in Mendota. NewsTribune photo/Scott Anderson
Jeremy DeBernardi tees off on Hole No. 15 Sunday. He shot a 70 on Sunday to finish with a two-round score of 147. He beat Troy Bauer in a playoff to win his fifth area title. NewsTribune photo/Scott Anderson
MENDOTA — Jeremy DeBernardi didn’t make it easy on himself.
Instead, he just executed when needed.
After DeBernardi saw two different leads disappear in the final three holes Sunday at the Mendota Golf Club, the assistant superintendent at Pine Hills Golf Club outdueled Mendota’s Troy Bauer in a one-hole playoff to win the Illinois Valley Men’s Golf Championship.
“This was definitely nice,” said DeBernardi, who shot an even-par 70 Sunday to finish the tournament at 5-over. “I think I felt a little more nerves here than I did the last few years. I just really wanted to win and it was good to be able to get it done.”
The championship is DeBernardi’s first area title since 2009 and his fifth in the last eight area tournaments he’s entered.
DeBernardi is the fourth person to win five area titles. Sunday’s victory tied him with Lou Visnikar for the third most area titles at five and puts him three shy of Ed Zukosky’s eight area titles. Tom Bauer, the 2012 champion, has seven area titles.
“I’ve just had some great luck in this tournament and great success,” DeBernardi said. “I don’t know what it is, but I really enjoy playing in it. There are some great names in the record book and to be up there with them is awesome.”
While historic, Bauer made sure DeBernardi’s fifth title never came easy.
With DeBernardi holding a two-shot lead on the 15th green, he missed a makeable birdie putt and then missed a short par putt before draining his bogey to allow Bauer — who parred the hole — to pull within a shot.
Another three-putt by DeBernardi on the par-3 Hole No. 16 allowed Bauer to pull even with two holes remaining.
“That was a huge swing,” DeBernardi said. “I’m looking at potentially going up three (on No. 15) and I leave one up. And the next hole, he brought it to a tie. But I just had to stay patient. You have to remain with your plan. For me, it just came down to my putter. I was hitting the ball all day, so (on No. 17) I knew I just needed to get it into a good spot.”
That’s exactly what DeBernardi did while the 23-year-old Bauer struggled.
Bauer pulled his tee shot on Hole No. 17 along the sloped bank off Rt. 34 before it ricocheted back into the rough and settled on a culvert, from which he was allowed a free drop.
Playing from an unfavorable lie after the drop, he punched his ball onto a down slope of a hill protecting the front of the green. From the awkward angle, Bauer chipped his third shot over the green before getting on in four. He then made a bogey-saving putt to head to Hole No. 18 down a shot.
After DeBernardi and Bauer each reached the green on Hole No. 18 in two shots, DeBernardi missed his left-to-right tournament-clinching birdie putt.
Bauer, with a straight uphill putt, drained his pressure-filled birdie putt to pull even before DeBernardi parred.
“I told my dad when I was looking over my putt on 18, I said, ‘I’m either going to fist pump or fall to my knees,’” Bauer said. “I hit it a little harder than I wanted to, but it was nice that I hit it hard because it held its line.”
On the first playoff hole on Hole No. 18, Bauer sliced his tee shot to the right — just as he purposely did in regulation — except this time his shot went too far right into the grass, forcing him to take a drop.
DeBernardi played his tee shot and the hole safe as his tournament-clinching par putt edged Bauer’s bogey to give DeBernardi the title.
“The last three weeks my driver has been the best part of my game and it was the worst part of my game today,” Bauer said. “I scrambled real well because my driver got me into trouble on some holes.
“The (playoff) hole, I just kind of fell back on the shot and it went right to the tall grass hazard. I couldn’t advance it 10 feet (if I played it where it lied) so I had to take the drop.”
Ben Gillan took a one-shot lead into the second round and finished third.
DeBernardi — who trailed Gillan by three shots after the first round — started the second round with three birdies to pull back in contention before Bauer took over and built a two-stroke lead on Hole No. 8.
However, as Bauer faltered at the turn, DeBernardi and Gillan made up ground as the three were tied at 4-over for the tournament after 27 holes.
DeBernardi took the lead with a birdie on Hole No. 10 and held the cushion through Hole No. 15 when Bauer made his push.
Notes: While DeBernardi claimed the Championship Class, Matt Novak won the A Class crown, Adel Mendoza won B Class, Pat Smith won C Class and Ken Doran took the handicapped Senior Class. ... While Troy Bauer played in Sunday’s final group, his father and 2012 champion Tom Bauer served as his caddie. Tom did not attempt to defend his title due to a preplanned tripped last weekend.
Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6938, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.
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