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Clarence’s Holzhauer triumphs in Junior Masters

Marc Holzhauer is listed as being from Winter Garden, Fla., in the International Junior Masters’ lineup this week.

But make no mistake about it – Holzhauer is a Western New Yorker through and through.

So that made it even more special for the Clarence resident Friday when he won the championship flight of the 63rd IJM at East Aurora Country Club.

“It means a lot,” said Holzhauer, who attends the Core Golf Academy outside Orlando, from which he’ll graduate next year – hence the Florida listing. “I had a lot of people come out and support me, and that helped.”

Even though he’s only 16, Holzhauer, who used to go to the Park School, was playing in his fourth IJM. He became one of the first two 13-year-olds ever to participate in the event in 2012, and now has his name in the record book in another way. He defeated MacKenzie Carter, 2 up, in Friday’s final.

As usual, Holzhauer found himself hitting first after both players teed off, as the 18-year-old Carter was routinely a club or two longer. But nothing seems to faze Holzhauer.

To become champion, he beat the top-seeded Carter, No. 2 seed Baker Stevenson and No. 3 seed and defending champion Will Thomson of Pittsford, as well as big-hitting Colombian Simon Uribe.

“I played really well,” Holzhauer said. “I didn’t get intimidated knowing they were the best ones. It didn’t bother me. I didn’t even know they were the top three seeds. I just focused on my own game.”

Holzhauer blitzed Stevenson, an 18-year-old from Hartland, Mich., 6 and 5, in a morning semifinal match. Carter, meanwhile, took out Maryland’s Evan Santa, 2 and 1, in the other semifinal.

The final was tight through the opening nine holes, as the competitors made the turn all square.

Holzhauer went 1 up on the par-4 10th when Carter three-putted for bogey.

The lead quickly extended to 3 up through 12 holes when Carter couldn’t recover from poor tee shots and made two consecutive bogeys.

“It was kind of strange,” Carter said. “I was sitting on the 10th tee all square and I wasn’t feeling the pressure. I tried to stay in the moment, but after all the golf the past three days, it’s hard to focus on the last back nine. I made a couple mental miscues.”

A drive into the hazard on the par-4 14th by Carter made it appear Holzhauer would be able to put a choke hold on the match. But as he did all week, Carter, an 18-year-old from Cobourg, Ont., battled back.

Holzhauer made a poor iron shot that landed short of the green and resulted in a bogey, which Carter was able to match. Carter then won the par-3 15th hole with a par to cut his deficit to one.

“He gave me a chance,” Carter said. “To be honest, I thought I was going to win. That’s a good sign for me for the future.

“It was definitely a fun tournament for me. I’m very pleased with how I played. It’s too bad I couldn’t pull out the win in the end, but I definitely grew a lot as a player this week, so I’m pleased.”

After both players made par on the par-5 16th, Carter extended the match with a par on the long par-4 17th. His bunker shot from the right side of the green came to rest an inch from the cup for a conceded par, and Holzhauer wasn’t able to roll in a par putt.

“That’s kind of happened to me the last couple matches,” Holzhauer said. “I tried to stay in the present, but it was hard to do.”

Holzhauer was able to regroup, however, by hitting a perfect tee shot on the short, par-4 18th. He used driver, while Carter laid up with a long iron. That mean Holzhauer had just a 50-degree wedge into the green. Hitting first, Carter airmailed the green, meaning just finding the putting surface would about seal the match for Holzhauer. His wedge came to rest about 5 feet from the hole.

“Perfect distance for that club,” he said.

When Carter’s chip from behind the green sailed through the putting surface, he conceded the match.

“This is the best” tournament “I’ve ever won,” Holzhauer said.