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Local golf: Defending champion Bufalini falls; Hughes moves on

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It was an eventful, often dramatic day at Ives Hill Country Club on Wednesday.

On an afternoon when five-time and defending champion John Bufalini lost, and 11-time city men’s champion Bob Hughes advanced to the semifinals yet again, it was a noble gesture by veteran Jeff Fallon that will be remembered.

Minutes after Bufalini was beaten 3 and 1 by former champion Steve Ahlgrim in a second-round match and Hughes’s 4 and 3 quarterfinal victory over Glenn Gleason, Fallon called a penalty on himself on the second extra hole of a playoff with 2009 champ James Ambrose. That cost Fallon a possible shot at his first city championship.

Fallon was just off the back of the green on the second hole, lying three, when his ball rolled backward. He immediately called over Ambrose, who was eight feet away from the hole in three, and told him, “I’m sure I grounded my putter behind the ball and it moved.’’

Neither Fallon nor Ambrose were certain about the ruling in a match play situation, whether it is simply a penalty or perhaps loss of hole.

But instead of discussing it further, Fallon simply picked up Ambrose’s coin, and conceded the match.

“I caused the ball to move, I’m positive, so it was the right thing to do,’’ Fallon said after shaking Ambrose’s hand. “Now, let’s all go have a beer.’’

Said Ambrose, who moves on to play Paul Ahlgrim in the quarterfinals, “Jeff still had a chance maybe to halve the hole if he makes a long putt and I miss. He didn’t have to concede, but I certainly appreciate his honesty.’’

For Bufalini, it was a disappointing defense of his title, finishing 7-over-par. He putted poorly and hit some uncharacteristically wayward drives. “I didn’t deserve to win today, and it probably should have been worse. Just too many mental mistakes,’’ he said.

Ahlgrim, still seeking his second city crown after winning in 1989, played his usual steady game and took advantage of Bufalini’s mistakes.

“John certainly wasn’t on top of his game today,’’ said Ahlgrim, who trailed by a hole after going 3-over-par on the opening nine before playing 1-under-par over his final seven holes to earn a quarterfinal berth against 2003 winner Joe Tufo.

“It was a day for pars and I hit it pretty solid from tee to green,’’ Ahlgrim added.

Bufalini took his first lead with a par to Ahlgrim’s bogey on No. 2, but he gave that back with a three-putt on No. 5.

Ahlgrim bogeyed 7 and 8 as Bufalini went 2 up, and the defending champ appeared to have the momentum as they headed to the par-5 ninth hole.

However, Bufalini made one of his poorest swings of the day with the driver, hit into the hazard left and managed only a bogey 6. Ahlgrim chipped to within three feet and was conceded a birdie, the duo’s first of the round, and went to the back nine down by just a hole.

“I had just come off really good shots on 7 and 8, which were playing very tough,’’ Bufalini said. “There’s no reason to hit that drive in the hazard.’’

Ahlgrim drew even again with a superb 3-wood to 15 feet and made par on the par-3 10th hole, “as good as I can do from 235 yards,’’ he said later. Meanwhile, Bufalini bogeyed from left of the green.

Bufalini’s lone birdie on 11, with a chip to two feet, temporarily gave him another lead. But after 12 and 13 were halved with pars, Bufalini drove into trouble again on 14, hacked it out and struggled to make a double-bogey 6 to Ahlgrim’s par 4.

A Bufalini three-putt on 15 and an Ahlgrim par gave the challenger his first lead. Ahlgrim then drained a clutch six-footer for par on 16 as Bufalini bogeyed, and all of a sudden, Ahlgrim was 2 up with two holes to play.

Ahlgrim, a 60-year-old city dentist, closed out the match with a birdie 3 on No. 17.

Tufo, the No. 8 seed, beat No. 9 George LaBarr 6 and 4. And Paul Ahlgrim, seeded fifth, was a 6 and 5 winner over No. 21 Don Rutherford.

Hughes, the No. 3 seed, made three consecutive birdies on holes 11-13 to pull away from Gleason, a soldier stationed at Fort Drum. Hughes will play the winner between medalist Adam Brown and Shawn Thomas in Saturday’s semifinals.

“It’s always nice to be back in the semifinals,’’ Hughes said.

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