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Abe Winter / Special to The Forum, Published February 22 2010

Aliianz Championship golf: Oxbow’s Mike Podolak completes Champions Tour event tied for 66th with a final-round 73

BOCA RATON, Fla. – Mike Podolak’s 54-hole scorecard: 36 pars, eight birdies, nine bogeys, one double bogey.

The 3-over-par total of 219 didn’t get him into contention for the Allianz Championship, the Champions Tour event that ended Sunday at The Old Course at Broken Sound. But it earned him $1,955 and a lot of memories.

The winner was Bernhard Langer, the two-time Masters champion who holed his shot for an eagle from a trap to edge John Cook on the first hole of a playoff after both finished at 17-under 199. Joey Sindelar was third at 200, followed by Gene Jones at 201 and Tom Lehman, Mike Reid, Tim Simpson and Loren Roberts at 202.

“They’re the best in the world. (Langer) just proved it,” Podolak said after watching the quick ending. “There’s always a little luck involved, but they have the technique and skills – they do it every week – and that’s why they shoot 17 under.”

Cook and Langer were 20 strokes better than Podolak, the 55-year-old insurance agent who made the field by qualifying for a sponsor’s exemption. He met the Allianz criteria by being age 50-plus, having a scratch or better handicap (he’s plus-3 at Oxbow Country Club) and shooting par or better on this course (he shot 1-under 71 on Dec. 16).

Over the weekend, Podolak, who once shot an 8-under 64 in winning the North Dakota Open – a Dakotas Tour event at the Fargo Country Club – had rounds of 75, 71 and 73 on the 6,807-yard par-72 course.

His final round included nine pars, five bogeys and four birdies.

“I didn’t putt as well today,” Podolak said. “I played a couple of holes pretty erratically. Overall, I’m pleased with the way I played.

“I was a little nerved up all week. Well, maybe not nervous, but anxious. This means I can still play my best golf when it means the most.”

Podolak, who made the trip a family vacation for his wife, Brenda, and daughters Kate, 18, and Laura, 15, wanted to improve his score each day. It happened Saturday when he was four shots better than Friday. But not on Sunday after starting his round at 2-over 146, tied with veterans Ben Crenshaw, Tom Wargo and Graham Marsh. He also was ahead of 11 pros, including Lanny and Bobby Wadkins, Dave Stockton, Isao Aoki, John Harris, Fulton Allem, Jim Dent, Gary Hallberg, Jim Colbert, Steve Haskins and Gary Player.

Podolak’s back nine, which he played first for the third straight day, got off to a bad start with a three-putt bogey on the 10th hole. He scrambled for par on the next hole before getting two pars and another bogey at the par-3 14th.

Then his “A” game emerged. He just missed, by inches, birdie putts at 15 and 16 before closing with birdies on 17 and 18 for an even-par 36. He came in with a 1-over 37, making birdies at 1 and 4, but bogeying 2, 5 and 9.

Podolak tied Curtis Strange at 219 and the native of Oakes, N.D., finished ahead of Mark Wiebe (220), Bobby Wadkins (221), Peter Jacobsen (222), Bruce Lietzke (223), Aoki (224), Hallberg (228), Dent (229), Lanny Wadkins (232) and Player (238).

“I played good golf,” Podolak said. “It’s never low enough, but I didn’t come down and embarrass myself. I’m proud of the way I played.”

A winner of 21 individual and three best-ball championships, Podolak generally is considered one of North Dakota’s all-time best golfers. Podolak enjoyed the royal treatment this week starting with the 2010 Lexus provided by one of the tour sponsors and getting his parking spot next to Player, a Hall of Famer.

Podolak played with relative unknowns Jim Roy and Rod Spittle in the first round, Stockton and Harris in the second round, and Wargo and Gil Morgan in the third round.

Brenda Podolak and her daughters left the course after Mike teed off at No. 1 for his second nine. After all, there’s school Monday at Kindred for Kate and Laura.

The girls said they will have lasting memories of the trip.

“I’m so proud of my Dad,” Kate said. “This has been totally awesome. He always said he could play with the pros and here he is.

“It’s been a great experience to be here. This is probably one of the most memorable.”

Laura, who joined her sister in swimming with the dolphins Wednesday at the Miami Seaquarium, agreed.

“It’s been exciting and nerve-racking at the same time,” Laura said.

When his family departed, it created another anxious moment for Dad.

“I kind of teared up today when they left,” said Podolak, adding that the entire week, which came 26 years after playing as an amateur in the Masters, “was a wonderful memory.”

And if Allianz has the same promotion next year, he’d try to qualify again.

“For sure,” he said.