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Burke Holds on to Win MGA Senior Open at Crestmont

WEST ORANGE, N.J. (October 18, 2011) – Battling a visual impairment suffered from a detached retina, 54-year-old Mike Burke Jr. of Montammy rallied with a birdie on the 36th hole of the championship to shoot a final-round 71 for a 36-hole total of 4-under-par 140, good for a one-stroke victory at the 15th MGA Senior Open at Crestmont Country Club. Burke, who won the 1997 Met Open along with the 1978 Met Amateur, now adds a third MGA title to his record.

“I’ve played probably 50 times here over the years, so this was almost a home game for me,” said Burke of the course that is a mere eight miles from his home. “I know these greens well, and that definitely helped me today.”

Burke, who shot a three-under 69 in yesterday’s first round, entered today’s final round one stroke behind co-leaders Bill Britton of Trump National-Colts Neck and Don Brigham of Battleground, both of whom shot 73 to finish tied for second place at 3-under-par 141. They were among 40 professionals and amateurs over the age of 50 who survived the 18-hole cut of 4-over-par 76, and were able to play today’s final round in conditions ideal for mid-October in the Met Area.

The stage was set for an exciting final round, as the leading contenders were among the most accomplished pros in the Met Area, with four past Met Open winners in contention: Burke, Britton (1979 Met Open and 2006 MGA Senior Open), 2005 and 2003 MGA Senior Open champion Darrell Kestner of Deepdale (1995, 1983 & 1982 Met Opens), and Mike Diffley of Pelham (1991 Met Open). Kestner finished in fourth place at 144 while Diffley finished tied for 8th at 147.

Britton, Burke and Brigham separated themselves from the rest of the field, holding a share of the lead for much of the day. Following what he thought was a round-killing double bogey at the par-three 17th hole; Burke collected himself and birdied the par-five 18th to post his clubhouse score of 4-under 144.

“I was hitting good shots today and on 17 I tried to hit a burning 3-iron and stuck it right in the ground. I hit it in a place I never knew existed [a bunker 40 yards short of the green] and made double. But then I made two good shots on 18 [to make birdie]. I also made some putts early in the round to get things going. It was a pretty good day.”

Knowing he had an accomplished player in Britton behind him, Burke was gunning to make an eagle three on 18, thinking that was his only chance to end up tied for the lead. After missing the 40-foot eagle putt, Burke made a four-footer for birdie to post what ended up being the winning score.

Britton and Brigham, playing in the final group, stood at five under and three under, respectively, through 15 holes before Britton encountered trouble on 16. After taking an unplayable, Britton went back to the tee and made a double bogey which he followed up with a bogey-4 on the par-3 17th, moving him to 2-under for the championship. An impressive up-and-down for birdie from the front of the green of the final hole brought him back to 3-under.

Brigham needed to make a move on the last two holes and did just that.

“I hit as good a golf shot as I’ve ever hit on the 17th hole, hitting a 4-wood to about six feet and making the putt for birdie,” said Brigham. “I played 18 perfectly, laying up to 70  yards, which was the yardage I wanted, but hit the wedge a quarter of an inch heavy.”

That left Brigham 18 feet for birdie, and after leaving his first putt four feet short, he lipped out on his next putt, missing out on a playoff opportunity with Burke.

Even in defeat, Brigham kept things in perspective as he reflected on playing the event at the home club of the late longtime Crestmont head professional Peter Famiano who won this event in 2002 at the Woodmere Club. “Peter was a friend of mine and you can’t come here [to Cresmont] without thinking about Peter.”

Burke brings home the $5,000 winner’s share of the $25,000 purse. Low amateur honors went to Cyrus Whitney of Hackensack, who finished at 3-over 147.

The 2011 MGA Senior Open was originally scheduled for August 29 & 30 but was postponed due to course damage caused by Tropical Storm Irene. Next year’s MGA Senior Open will be back in its traditional timeframe, and is scheduled for August 27 & 28 at Garden City Country Club on Long Island.

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