Nino stands alone in Manoa Cup
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Though he'd just endured a rainy morning walk in Nuuanu, Kurt Nino didn't bother drying off.
Nino overcame a sometimes soggy day to storm past Edward Stenftenagel and win his first Manoa Cup title yesterday, earning him the traditional plunge into the Oahu Country Club pool reserved for the state amateur match-play champion.
Nino took control of the title match early in the morning round with three straight birdies on Nos. 4-6.
He ended the match by rolling in a 30-foot putt for birdie on No. 11 in the afternoon session, clinching the 8-and-7 victory.
The win ended a four-year wait for the Damien graduate since his loss to Kellen-Floyd Asao in the 2003 title match.
Had it been a stroke-play tournament, Nino would have shot a 4-under-par 67 in the first half of the scheduled 36-hole final for the first bogey-free 18 holes of his life. The 2005 Damien graduate finished with seven birdies and just one bogey in the match's 29 holes.
Stenftenagel had plundered OCC's front nine throughout the week-long event, but struggled yesterday. He started with a bogey on No. 1 and had a stretch of four straight bogeys from Nos. 8 to 11 and went into the 12th hole already trailing by seven. He would get no closer than five the rest of the way.
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As Kurt Nino approached his ball, sitting some 30 feet from the hole on Oahu Country Club's 11th, an image from four years earlier flashed into his mind.
It was from that spot that Kellen-Floyd Asao snaked in a putt to end the 2003 Manoa Cup final, leaving Nino, then still a high schooler, to settle for the tournament's consolation prize.
"It was same putt Kellen dropped on me for the win. It was the exact same putt," Nino said. "I was like, 'You have nothing to lose and it would be great if you make the exact same putt Kellen dropped on you.' "
Now with a chance to close out his first Manoa Cup title, Nino aimed at a point about 20 feet above the hole, struck the putt and let the slope guide the ball to the cup. And when the ball disappeared at the end of its sweeping path to punctuate a commanding performance in the state amateur match-play championship ...
"The first word that came into my mind was, 'finally,' " he said. "I've been waiting for all these years and I knew I could win this tournament."
Nino took a controlling lead early in the scheduled 36-hole final and never trailed Edward Stenftenagel in an 8-and-7 victory to end his week-long march to the championship of the 99th Manoa Cup, the state's oldest and the nation's fourth-longest running event.
Nino set the tone for the match with three straight birdies from No. 4 to No. 6 and stretched his lead with pars on Nos. 8-11 as Stenftenagel bogeyed four straight, taking a 7-up lead to the 12th tee.
Nino had seven birdies against just one bogey in a 29-hole round the 19-year-old San Francisco junior said "was the best I've ever played in my life."
He played the first 24 holes at 5 under par and carded his only bogey on the ninth hole of the afternoon round. He then birdied the next two, ending with the par-3 11th, to seal the win.
"I hit the ball off the tee much better than yesterday and I putted well all week," he said.
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Kurt Nino got ceremoniously tossed into the OCC swimming pool after he won the Manoa Cup yesterday.
The victory eclipsed the 2004 state high school championship he won as a junior at Damien, and was sweetened by having come close three times in his previous four Manoa Cup appearances. He twice made it as far as the semifinals and lost the 2003 final to Asao.
"This is way bigger," he said. "This is the tournament I wanted to win."
At the end of the match, Nino hugged his father, Amor, who had caddied for him throughout the week and joined him in the traditional winner's toss into the OCC pool.
"He's been out here every day, we're talking about golf 24-7," said Kurt Nino, who missed last year's tournament due to hernia surgery. "He gives me good reads on every putt, I don't putt until I get his side. He's been part of the reason why I've been successful in this tournament because he knows these greens real well."
Stenftenagel, from Indian Wells, Calif., was the medalist in Monday's qualifying round and tore through the bracket to reach the final in his second Manoa Cup appearance. But he struggled through a soggy morning round and didn't have many chances to close the gap with Nino carding pars and birdies.
He had a flight to New York scheduled for last night and will play in a qualifier for the Porter Cup, a national amateur tournament, on Tuesday.
"He's a great competitor and I didn't putt well, I didn't hit the ball that well, I didn't really have anything today, and he just flat-out outplayed me," Stenftenagel said.
"It was hard to get anything going the entire day. There were times where I'd hit a good drive and the ball would have terrible lies in the fairway. There were times where I thought I'd hit good putts and I completely misread them."
The highlight of Stenftenagel's day came on No. 8 in the afternoon, when he holed a shot from a green-side bunker for birdie.
"I was actually in someone else's divot mark in the sand trap, because they didn't rake it well enough," he said.
"So I wasn't too happy when I got up there. Then all of the sudden the ball popped up great, I landed it where I wanted to and it went in."
Both finalists resume their college careers this fall, Nino at USF and Stenftenagel at Southern Cal, and plan to return for the 100th Manoa Cup next year. And both said the week's experiences served as a confidence boost as they move forward.
"It gives me a lot of confidence that I have the game to win a tournament at the college level," Nino said. "I've been close the last two years, this only gives me a big step in my career."