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Buchanan leads way in Porter qualifier

A short night of sleep wasn't enough to keep Jeb Buchanan from posting the low score at the Porter Cup Qualifier at Niagara Falls Country Club on Monday.

The senior captain of the University of Connecticut men's golf team finished on top of the 96-man field with a 5-under 65, and was one of eight players to qualify for the 53rd Porter Cup. Five players made the field after a playoff that was forced by a record nine-way tie at even 70.

Buchanan paced the field with six birdies and a bogey, despite checking into his hotel room at 1:30 a.m. the night before and teeing off at 9:40 a.m.

"This is huge," Buchanan said. "I've always talked about the Porter Cup as one of the most prestigious amateur tournaments in the world. To say that I'm going to it, it's a complete honor. I have a big smile on, I'm so happy."

Buchanan, a resident of the Albany suburb Loudonville, was fresh off a fourth-place finish at the Troy Invitational. He finished the three-day tournament at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday and drove straight to Niagara Falls.

Buchanan had led the Troy tournament with 11 holes left. He figures to be in a better mood on his journey home.

"It was a little disappointing driving out here. I was like 'Oh, shoot.' " Buchanan said. "It was rejuvenating to come out here and play really well."

Only two other players finished under par -- Brian Churchill-Smith of Oakville, Ont., at 3-under 67 and Chris Covelli of Amherst at 68.

Covelli, who last qualified for the Porter Cup four years ago, started his day with four straight bogeys, but was able to rebound going 6-under on his final 14 holes.

"After the fourth hole I said it was either do or die," Covelli said. "I just slowed down the rhythm in my swing and I just started hitting it good."

When he last played in the Porter Cup, Covelli finished in the bottom third of the field. He has since graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University -- where he played golf.

"It was funny, that was my first really big tournament," Covelli said of his first Porter Cup. "I was with the No. 1 player from Wake Forest and another one from Arizona. I was definitely nervous and gained some experience."

In the playoff, Ryan Terdick, Chris Malec, Zachary Kempa, Daniel Kim, and Sebastian Pinzon advanced. Pinzon, a native of Bogota, Columbia, flew in from Miami, Fla. -- where he currently lives -- on Friday just to compete in the qualifier. He was the last to qualify with a par on the par-4 ninth.

The self-described aggressive player golfed at Barry University (Miami), until he graduated in May. He said he was a little tense standing over his final putt but will be happy to return Niagara Falls with his father.

"I like playoffs because either you are in or you are out," Pinzon said. "I had a little advantage because I hit it longer."

The field is now set for the tournament, but one noticeable name was recently removed from the list.

According to Steve Denn, the tournament director, Patrick Cantlay, the top amateur at the U.S. Open, withdrew. Cantlay led the PGA's Travelers Championship this past weekend after shooting a 10-under 60 in the second round.

Peter Uihlein, last year's U.S. Amateur Champion, also has withdrawn.

e-mail: rmarfurt@buffnews.com