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Carter, Veres in battle for Amateur title

by Matt Harvey


(June 11) It's now just Michael Veres and Pat Carter glaring across the table at each other, with one final hand to play and the West Virginia Amateur trophy in the kitty.

Veres and Carter distanced themselves from the rest of the field while touring the tough Pete Dye Golf Club at even par in Wednesday's third round. Carter maintains a one-stroke lead over Veres heading into today's final 18 holes, but nobody else is closer than seven strokes.

So who will flinch first?

Three-time defending champion Carter, 30, a potato chip distributor from Lesage near Huntington, may have a few aces in the hole.

He sometimes seems like a machine, going from fairway to green, fairway to green, fairway to green like a broken record.

Carter first won the Amateur in 1989, then struggled some before getting on his current run. A win today would put him among the all-time elite in Amateur history, matching the record of four consecutive championships.

Carter didn't get this far by underestimating his competition.

"I don't think he was intimidated today," Carter said of Veres. "I don't think he would be anymore so tomorrow. He's played enough college golf to be used to tough situations. I would expect him to shoot about the same."

Carter isn't exactly struggling, though.

He had just one horrendous shot on Wednesday, a slightly off-line iron on No. 11 that careened off the rocks above a waterfall that fronts the green. It flew to the side and midway down a steep hill covered in knee-high grass.

Then Carter made his best play of the day: He decided to take a drop for an unplayable lie instead of attempting to be a hero and make hay from the hay.

After the drop, Carter knocked his shot on the green. He ended up taking double-bogey, but it was the kind of hole that could have been devastating and would have been to anyone less experienced.

Carter also had some bright spots as the weather and Pete Dye finally eased up on the field of 45 remaining at the Amateur. He made birdie on the third hole after knocking his approach 3 feet from the stick, made another birdie with a beautiful 30-foot chip on No. 9, and drained a 14-footer on No. 13 for yet another birdie.

And for the second straight day, he was solid despite playing without his brother Earl as caddie. Huntington-area golfer Phil Mayes filled in and did a good job, Carter said.

But Earl, Carter's elder by 20 years, provides a calming influence.

"It's good to have somebody familiar on your bag," Carter said, "to maybe get your mind off things, to talk about something besides golf."

Earl is expected to return for today's final round after attending a relative's funeral in Barboursville.

The difference today could well come down to the final four holes, Carter believes.

"You can make some big numbers out there," he said. "You're not going to be safe until you make that final putt."

That's something Veres has learned by experience.

The 20-year-old from Chapmanville led the Amateur after 36 holes when he was 16. He didn't do anything so brash as predict a win, but he did let his emotions get somewhat away from him in the third round and saw that chance to become the youngest Amateur winner slip away.

Now a student at Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College, Veres is showing poise and restraint as he makes a second run at the Amateur.

Carter says there will be pressure on Veres to win his first Amateur.

But "everybody's got to win their first state Amateur sometime. And he's playing well," Carter said.

A year ago, Huntington's Chris Curry provided Carter with his main challenge, but Curry faded under Carter's relentless consistency.

On Wednesday, it certainly looked like Carter was ready to slam the hammer down again: He birdied the 13th hole by sinking a 14-foot putt while Veres blew a 3-footer for par.

At that point, Carter had a two-shot lead and it looked like he had taken the best Veres could throw at him, yet still was standing.

But Veres, who likened himself to a heavyweight title contender coming into the round, is no Peter McNeely.

Instead of falling flat on his face, Veres fired back on No. 16 with a 30-foot birdie putt that broke from right to left.

"I was just trying to two-putt," Veres said. "It probably broke 30 feet, literally. That made up for a lot of bad putts."

Veres blamed tentative play on the greens for adding some shots to his score, yet still believed he was in great position for a final-round push.

"Being one shot back takes the pressure off me," Veres said. "If it's meant to be mine, it's mine. If it's meant to be his, it's his."

Veres said it will take a fantastic round to win.

"If the conditions are the same (today), I'm going to need to shoot in the 60s to win," Veres said. "I know Pat won't be above par. I won't be nervous at all. That's just my nature and confidence I have in my golf game."

Veres has had to do much of the hard work on his own, as no one else in his family golfs.

His father, also named Mike, does provide a calming influence: "I'm basically there for him. I'm his cheerleader and his financier."

For Veres, a win today would mean a lot more than just a trophy for his mantlepiece.

"A win would be half for me and half for my father," Veres said. "It would be great to give him something back for all he's done for me."

Sports Writer Chris Errington contributed to this report.