The beauty of match play in golf is that it often evens the playing field, allowing lesser golfers to beat their more accomplished counterparts on any given day.
Such was the case Sunday at Watertown Golf Club as the 2012 City Men's Championships began the match play portion of the tournament. Not only did the top seed and defending champion, Ryan Clark, bow out, the qualifying medalist, Steve Ahlgrim, also lost in a day of major upsets.
And both of the top seeds were beaten by players who needed an extra hole Saturday just to qualify for the championship flight.
Clark was ousted by veteran city campaigner Ralph Larsen, the 32nd-and-final championship flight seed, 1 up in the first match of the day.
Ahlgrim, who led the 61-player field in qualifying with a 69 on Saturday, saw his dreams of a second city crown dashed when No. 31 Michael Burgess made birdie on the first playoff hole in the day's final match off the first tee.
Only a couple of other higher seeds lost, setting up some intriguing second-round matches that must be completed by Wednesday.
Clark, who won last year's city title with a stirring run at Ives Hill Country Club, was not sharp in his match versus Larsen.
“I just didn't hit enough good shots, and I didn't make many putts,” said Clark, a recent South Jefferson graduate who will attend St. John Fisher in the fall. “If you only make two birdies in a match, it's going to be tough to win.”
Larsen, who had to make a six-foot par putt on Saturday to earn his championship flight spot, said he didn't play exceptionally well, but made some good shots at opportune times.
“I got off to a good start and that gave me some confidence,” said Larsen, one of the few players in the field that uses a long putter. “And even when I got down I thought I could win.”
Larsen made consecutive birdies on holes 2-4 to seize a 3 up lead after five holes. He finished 1 up after a front-nine 36, but eventually fell behind on No. 14.
A wayward tee shot on 16 cost Clark as he fell a hole down for good, and Larsen held on over the final two tough finishing holes.
“I've had a history of losing first-round matches to the eventual champions so this felt good,'' Larsen said. “A day like this will make my whole season.”
Competing in just his second city tournament, Burgess played a steady round against Ahlgrim, the 1989 champion. And for the second straight day he hit an almost perfect chip to within a few feet on the first playoff hole to make a birdie 3 in a playoff.
“Today's (chip) was a lot easier than the one on Saturday,” Burgess said. “I played really consistent today and didn't get myself into too much trouble.”
Ahlgrim said he didn't play badly, but he could never get his usually reliable putter going.
“For the second day in a row I left some makeable putts on the course,” Ahlgrim said. “But Mike played very consistently. And I knew after a couple holes it would be a close match.''
Larsen now plays No. 17 Jason Sweeny, while Burgess draws No. 15 Mike Bufalini.
In a couple of mild upsets, No. 21 Bob Phillips beat No. 12 Andrew Marks 5 and 3, No. 22 Brian Phillips eliminated No. 11 Tom Cotter 4 and 3, and No. 19 Tyler Woodward, the 2010 champ, beat former champion and No. 14 seed Tim Phillips 2 and 1.
Multiple champions John Bufalini and Bob Hughes had easy days, winning their matches 6 and 5 over E. J. Mentry and Mike Donnelly, respectively.
Paul Ahlgrim, the No. 3 seed, coasted to a 7 and 6 win over Jacob Baldwin, while No. 6 James Ambrose posted a 5 and 4 win over Jim Nevers.
Also advancing were former champions Toby Draper, 1 up over Shane Wisner, Joe Tufo, 4 and 2 against Adam Brehm, and Adam Brown, 3 and 2 against Tom Bedard.
Bufalini now meets Draper in a matchup of champions. Hughes takes on Bob Phillips, Tufo plays Eric Burke, Ambrose draws Brian Phiillips, Paul Ahlgrim meets Woodward, and Brown meets Chris Denesha.