[ GOLF ]

Regan Lee teed off on the 14th hole during the final round of the Mid-Pacific Open at Mid-Pacific Country Club yesterday.

Lee wins third straight
Mid-Pac title

The Waipahu resident beats
Kenichiro Kato by 11 shots

In the 42-year history of the Mid-Pacific Open, no one had ever pulled off a three-peat. But Regan Lee did it yesterday with an exclamation point, pitching in for a birdie at the final hole to capture the 2004 event at the Mid-Pacific Country Club in Lanikai.

Lee already had the championship well in hand when he took aim at a short pitch from off the front of the 18th green. The ensuing shot struck the flagstick and spun around the hole, the ball stopping momentarily on the back lip before falling back into the cup, eliciting a loud roar from the gallery.

"It's a good feeling to win three in row," Lee said afterward. "Everyone dreams of making a bit of history. Anytime you can do that it's a good thing."

In recording his third straight Mid-Pac victory, Lee posted a final-round 70 for a 3-under-par total of 285 -- a whopping 11 shots better than his closest competitor. According to Mid-Pac officials, it was the largest winning margin in the tournament's history.

Japanese pro Kenichiro Kato, who fired a third-round 66, soared to a 79 yesterday but still managed to take runner-up honors at 8-over 296. Pros George Sinnott (74), Casey Nakama (75), Mark Takahama (76) and Joe Phengsavath (77) tied for third at 297.

Fast greens, a new three-inch cut of rough and pinched in fairways that were 35 to 40 yards wide were among the factors that led to the high scoring this year. But mostly it was a steady, driving 30-mph wind. The wind dried out the greens, making them hard to hold and even harder to putt.

"It was a completely different course," said Lee, who was 16 under par when he won his first Mid-Pac Open in 2002.

Lee managed to tame the course with his brilliant shot making. All week long he choked down on his irons and hit low boring shots to the right places on the green. "I hit the ball really well," he said. "I kept the ball on line and under the wind. If I missed the green, I usually missed it in a place where I could recover."

Lee began the day with a two-stroke lead on Kato and promptly birdied the first hole, hitting a flop wedge to within 8 feet of the cup. Four more times on the front side he hit approach shots to within 10 feet but failed to convert, making the turn in even-par 36 when he missed the ninth green for his first bogey.

Kato, however, ballooned to a 43 on the front side to fall nine back. Phengsavath made the turn in 36 but was still five behind. When he subsequently struggled on the back side, finishing with a 77, Lee's lead became insurmountable.

Coming down the stretch, the 28-year-old pro birdied the par-5 16th before pitching in for a final birdie at 18. "I was fortunate not to have any stress on the last few holes," he said. "I was able to relax. That made my final chip shot a lot easier."

For Lee, the victory marked the end of a frustrating year, one in which he missed the cut in the 2004 Hawaii Pearl Open and tied for 16th in the Hilo Invitational.

"My game has been off, but finally this last month it's been coming back," he said. "Mostly it's been a mental adjustment. I have an 8-month-old baby now and I'd been putting a lot of pressure on myself to play well and make money. But I sat down with my wife and we made a decision that I needed to go out and make golf fun again and just compete for myself."

Lee earned $7,500 for his victory. He said he plans to play the Challenge Cup in Japan this summer, a 10-event mini-tour that is the equivalent of the U.S. Nationwide Tour.


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