First-round leader Peter Kozubal of Fox Hollow weathered a blistering finish by Niall Handley of Essex Fells, then won on the first playoff hole, to claim the 61st New Jersey State Golf Association Pre-Senior Championship on Wednesday at the par-72, 6,521-yard Metuchen Golf and Country Club in Edison.

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Handley, 47, birdied the final four holes in regulation to finish at 3-under-par 69 (141). He watched as Kozubal, playing two groups behind, carded a par on the 17th and 18th holes to force a playoff at 141.

The playoff was resolved on the first playoff hole, the par-4, 400-yard No. 17, where Kozubal won with a par to notch his second NJSGA Championship. In 2015, the 49-year-old resident of Bridgewater won the NJSGA Men’s Public Links title at Howell Park. In addition to his two NJSGA victories, Kozubal has won 11 club championships at Fox Hollow, including the past two years.

Third-place went to Michael Dupree of Forsgate (70-76-146), followed by defending champion Gregg Angelillo of Baltusrol (76-71-147). Merv Smith of Darlington (79-71-150) and Eric Hill of Charleston Springs (74-76-150) tied for fifth place. The event is for golfers ages 45-54.

“On the extra hole, having just played 17 a few minutes earlier and nearly having a birdie, I knew to hit it short left and let it roll back to the hole,” said Kozubal, who did just that, leaving his approach from 100 yards just 15 feet short of the cup.

Handley, meanwhile, saw his approach roll across the green and over the rear-bank. His chip shot finished 25 yards past. When he missed his long putt, all Kozubal needed was a two-putt for par and a victory.

“I had made a birdie at the par-four, 15th hole, but as I came to 17 green, I saw Niall make a long putt on 18 and do a fist-pump, so I figured he tied me. I just missed my birdie putt on 17 and was lucky to save par on 18 when I missed the green to the right.” said Kozubal.

“That was one of my best par saves of the day. I had a good lie, about 25 feet away with some green to work with. On the playoff hole, I had some good thoughts because of how I had just played it,” he added. 

Handley’s birdie run began on the par-4, No 15 when he hit an approach to 10 feet and sank the putt. On the par-3, No. 16, he hit an 8 iron from 145 yards to two feet. On the par-4, No. 17, his pitching wedge from 117 yards came to rest one foot from the hole – setting up a short birdie putt, and on the par-3, 160-yard No. 18, his seven iron left him 15 feet above the hole. There, he sank a downhill, right-to-left curling putt.

“I’m disappointed, but I had a good time, playing my first event of the year,” said Handley, who won the NJSGA Tournament of Club Champions in 2012. “Coming down the stretch, I wanted to keep firing at the pins. It was good to have my son, Conor, with me today, to see that.

“I didn’t make many putts until the end today. I knew if I could shoot three-under on the back, I would have a chance,” said Handley, who exceeded his expectations with a blistering five-under, featuring five birdies on the back nine for a 31.

In the first round on Tuesday, Kozubal shot three-under-par 69 to hold a one-stroke lead over Dupree. KJ Kim of NJSGA E-Club was third with a 71, while Handley, who played with Kozubal in round one, was tied for fourth with John Beck of Cream Ridge at 72.

“There were some nerves coming into the day. I was tied for the lead after the first round three years ago at New Jersey National, but had a bad second round. I tried to keep my nerves in check and didn’t hit many bad shots today. It feels good to win again. A second championship validates the first one,” Kozubal stated.

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