Defending champ recovers from bad hole to keep title

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AIKEN --- Mary Helen McElreath was forced to go away from her "one shot at a time" game plan in Thursday's final round of the CSRA Women's Golf Association 54-Hole Championship.

That happens when you're taking 10 on your 11th hole.

"It got a little difficult between 11 and 12" to concentrate on her next shots, she said.

"My hair was standing up pretty good for a couple of holes," said McElreath, who bogeyed Nos. 12 and 13, but recovered to play her final five holes in 1-under.

It brought her home in 81 -- the day's low round -- at Houndslake Country Club. She won by nine shots over fellow Augustan Debra Hatcher, who shot 81-82-82.

McElreath entered with a five-shot lead after rounds of 76 on Monday at Midland Valley Country Club and 79 on Tuesday at Gordon Lakes Golf Course, her home course.

It was McElreath's second consecutive victory in the association's season-ending event.

"I'm very honored to get to hold onto that trophy for another year," said the 54-year-old McElreath, who was the runner-up in her debut in this tournament in 2006.

The talk of the day was McElreath's 10 on No. 2 on the Dogwood nine, which was her 11th of the day. She seven-putted the sloping green, but didn't mind talking about it afterward.

"You've got to laugh, don't you?" she asked.

Her attitude might have been different had it cost her the tournament.

"That would have been a pretty big pill (to swallow)," McElreath said. "Might have been a cottonball."

On the 11th hole, McElreath missed the par-4 green on her second shot, then chipped on, leaving her a 19-footer for par. With the pin cut in the middle of the undulating green, her first putt came within 6 inches of the hole, then rolled back 10 feet. It later rolled back to where she had started.

After her fourth putt, McElreath doublechecked with her playing partners to see how many shots she'd taken.

Her partners -- Hatcher and Cathy McKie -- two-putted the hole for bogey.

"Fair or unfair, it took me seven putts to get in," McElreath said when questioned about the pin position.

Going to the 12th tee, McElreath tried to put the disaster behind her.

"I told myself, 'It's over with.' It's just like starting over. It's the great thing about golf. You get to start over 18 times."

McElreath has been able to concentrate more on golf since retiring two years ago from teaching after 26 years at Glenn Hills.

"This gives me a lot of satisfaction," she said of winning back-to-back titles. "There are some great golfers in this association."

One of them didn't make it to the final round. Elaine Montano, a four-time champion who was six shots off the lead, withdrew after Tuesday's second round.

To play in the 54-Hole Championship, a player must have posted at least 20 rounds at her home course over the past nine months. Montano didn't meet that requirement at her course, Green Meadows Country Club.

Reach David Westin at (706) 724-0851 or david.westin@augustachronicle.com.


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