Things did not look very promising for Pat Bucci on Friday afternoon.
The 57-year-old from West Woods Golf Club was 2 down with four holes remaining in the final of the 48th CGA Senior Match Play Championship at Blackstone Country Club in southeast Aurora.
Moreover, Bucci was trailing an opponent, David Delich of The Broadmoor Golf Club, who had won this championship three times, and was looking to tie a record with victory No. 4.
But if things always followed a predictable path, sports wouldn't be much fun. And Friday's stretch run certainly took an unusual turn.
Bucci won three consecutive holes as Delich three-putted No. 15, hit his tee shot into a hazard on No. 16 (while Bucci put his 8 feet from the cup), then didn't find either of his tee balls on No. 17 and conceded the hole before Bucci even hit his second shot on the par-5. For Delich, No. 17 marked an uncharacteristic ninth bogey -- or worse -- in the match. Then Bucci (pictured at left and below) halved No. 18 with a par -- just the fifth halved hole of the match -- to clinch his first CGA championship title.
"I look back on it. Against him? It's a great feeling, but I didn't think it was going to happen," Bucci said. "The whole week -- this is a new experience for me, on this big of a stage. I can't explain where it came from. It was so unexpected.
"I was just thrilled to play (Delich), win or lose. To come out victorious makes it unbelievable. It's something I'll never forget, no matter what."
It was Bucci's second 1-up victory on Friday, the other coming when he rallied from 2 down early and birdied the final two holes to defeat Bill Woodward of Cherry Hills Country Club in a semifinal match. The down-to-the-wire wins capped an improbable week for the golfer who's retired from the South Metro Fire Department.
For Delich, this week marked the fifth time he has advanced to the final of the CGA Senior Match Play, with him going 3-2 in those title matches. He won the championship in 2007, '11 and '15, and was runner-up in 2008, when Ken Sady rallied from being 2 down on the back nine to claim the trophy.
"I'm just dead-ass tired," Delich (below) said after his second consecutive day of two matches each. "I've been coming back and forth from (Colorado Springs). I could feel it. I haven't played this much golf in a stretch that meant something in a couple of years -- since I had heart surgery (21) months ago. So I could feel it this morning coming up. My legs were tired and I was dead.
"This afternoon I started hitting poor irons -- and that's just the lower body being tired and I'm not turning. I kept making bogeys -- I made nine bogeys (or worse). When you're 2 up with (four) to go, you should put it away. I didn't. I left the door open, and it was enough to let him in."
For Bucci, walking through that door and winning the title is the pinnacle of his golf career.
"By far," he said. "It's my Masters."
Bucci said his next-best showing in a CGA championship came at the 2012 CGA Senior Amateur -- coincidentally won by Delich -- where the Littleton resident finished sixth.
Bucci indicated he had no inkling that a breakthrough victory was coming this week.
"You hope it's there, you hope to find it, you hope you hold onto it," he said. "I was playing decent, but there was nothing to say that this was my year."
Despite being 2 down with four holes to play on Friday -- and facing a three-time champion -- Bucci (below) hadn't given up hope when things looked the most bleak.
"I was thinking because of the golf course and the holes we were on (being in the midst of stretch from 13-16 known as 'The Gauntlet'), anything could happen," he said. "When you're sitting there with the lead, things go into your head. Those holes, you can hit good shots and come out on the bad end. So I just said, 'Hang in there and see what happens.'"
To get to the final, Delich defeated two former champions, Jeff Oneth in the round of 16 and Harry Johnson in the quarterfinals. Then in Friday morning's semis, he edged 2016 U.S. Senior Open qualifier John Hornbeck of Saratoga, Wyo., 1 up. By far the highlight of Delich's day was eagling the 495-yard second hole both times he played it on Friday. And against Bucci, he very nearly made double eagle there, with his ball ending up 2 feet behind the hole.
But Delich looks back on his three-putt on No. 15, where he lipped out an 11-foot par putt that would have put him 3 up with three holes left, as being crucial.
"The three-putt on No. 15 really hurt," he said. "Had that (second one) gone in, I think it's a different deal with a few holes to go. That's how it goes sometimes. It's a game of inches.
"Then I just ran out of juice and made a couple of bad swings coming in. That's when you need to be at your best -- and I wasn't. You can't expect to win win you make that many mistakes."
Delich, 60, had been bidding to become the fifth player to win the CGA Senior Match Play four times, joining John Olive, Larry Eaton, Bert Welz and Ed Nosewicz Sr.
"Obviously that would have been nice," Delich said. "John Olive is a friend. I've had my chances and let a couple go. At least one of the ones I won, I'm sure the other guy thought he let it go. That's golf and it happens. I'll get another chance probably -- one or two. I'm starting to get stronger and my game is getting better. Over the next three or four years, hopefully I'll get another shot at it. Today was an ideal day, but I didn't have it at the end when I needed it."
CGA Senior Match Play Championship
At Blackstone CC in Aurora
THURSDAY'S ROUND OF 16
David Delich, Broadmoor GC, def. Jeff Oneth, Colorado GC, 5 and 3
Harry Johnson, Eagle Ranch GC, def. Rob McLelland, Clubcorp Colorado, 2 up
John Hornbeck Collindale GC, def. David Snow, Saddle Rock GC, 6 and 5
Bill Fowler, Club at Rolling Hills, def. Bradley Becker, Plum Creek GC, 4 and 3
Pat Bucci, West Woods GC, def. Bob Chandler, Foothills GC, 5 and 3
Steve Sullivan, Ridge at Castle Pines North, def. Mark Armistead, Highlands Ranch GC, 2 and 1
Bill Woodward, Cherry Hills CC, def. Thomas McGeary, Highlands Ranch GC, 3 and 2
Mark Donahue, Cherry Hills CC, def. Robin Bradbury, Walnut Creek Golf Preserve, 1 up
David Delich, Broadmoor GC, def. Harry Johnson, Eagle Ranch GC, 5 and 3
John Hornbeck, Collindale GC, def. Bill Fowler, Club at Rolling Hills, 3 and 2
Pat Bucci, West Woods GC, def. Steve Sullivan, Ridge at Castle Pines North, 3 and 2
Bill Woodward, Cherry Hills CC, def. Mark Donahue, Cherry Hills CC, 5 and 4
David Delich, Broadmoor GC, def. John Hornbeck, Collindale GC, 1 up
Pat Bucci, West Woods GC, def. Bill Woodward, Cherry Hills CC, 1 up
Pat Bucci, West Woods GC, def. David Delich, Broadmoor GC, 1 up
For complete results from the CGA Senior Match Play, CLICK HERE.