Mills Creek championship semis set

Belden-Manuella and Cox-Zeller in Mills today
Butch Wagner
Jul 13, 2014
There will be a former champion and a first-time candidate in the finals of the 75th annual Mills Creek Championship tournament.

The major question is: Who will they be?

The semifinal round is scheduled this morning at the city-owned nine-hole course with Tim Belden of Castalia against Randy Manuella in one test, while Gavin Cox faces Gabe Zeller in the other.

The foursome tees off at 7:30 a.m., with the two winners moving on to the title match this coming Saturday — if weather does not force officials to call off today’s event because of inclement weather.

Belden is the 2009 champion while Manuella ranks second on the all-time list of winners with six to his credit, the last coming in 1999.

Both have fathers who earned titles — Dave Belden (1998, 2007) and Mike Manuella (1951, 1966).

Cox and Zeller are fighting to make the finals for the first time.

In Saturday’s quarterfinals, Manuella toppled Jim Mazza Jr., 4&3; Belden edged out Wayne Jackson, 1-up on the first extra hole; Zeller defeated Joe Whelan, 6&5 and Cox also won over Arnie Schuessler by the same margin (4&3).

The most interesting match of the day involved Belden, 30, and Jackson, 27.

It was close all the way and Jackson took a 1-up lead on the 17th hole with a fine par on the tough 205-yard No. 8 hole — which plays to a par of three the second time around.

On the 18th hole (No. 9), both played good tee shots, and both were off the green on the second.

Jackson’s pitch shot hit the green, and stopped, leaving the Monroeville golfer a 24-foot birdie putt. He missed and settled for a par.

Meanwhile, Belden was just a foot or two off the putting surface and his eagle putt was short, some four feet from the pin. He made the putt for the birdie to win the hole, and force a sudden death playoff.

Starting on No. 1, Jackson pulled his drive, and the second shot was just off the green. His chip shot was a carbon copy of the one on No. 9 moments earlier, and the try for the par was missed.    

Belden was on in two and two-putted for the par, and the win.

“We had a heck of a match and I played solid golf from tee to green,” Belden said. “However, my putting was off today. The key was I was able to win 18, then No. 1. And its going to be fun playing Randy.

“Wayne is one fine golfer, that’s for sure,” added Belden, who is a two-time defending Catawa Island Club champion.

As for Jackson, easily the longest hitter in the field, he said he threw it away with some chip shots on the last two holes that were identical.

“I threw it away. I was hoping they would roll out more, but they didn’t. I made a bomb on No. 6, then won No. 8 with a par but I didn’t have it when I needed to with those chips,” Jackson said.

He needed an up-and-down on No. 9 the second time around for the win but missed, then needed the same on No. 1 in the playoff to keep the match alive, and that didn’t happen.

“I felt I hit the shot I wanted to, but the ball did the same both times and I don’t know why” Jackson said.

Manuella, who also has three runner-up performances to go with the six titles, was 1-up at the turn with Mazza, lost No. 1 with a bogey, then made a miraculous par on No. 2.

“I birdied 3, 4 and 5 the second time around and that was the big factor,” Manuella said.

“This is he first time I’ve played since I lost the 2001 final to Jeff Sennish and I’m really happy with the way I played down the stretch”

As for Mazza, “I made to many mental mistakes today. I played well from tee to green but it was just those mental mistakes that cost me.

“I want to thank my dad (Jim Mazza, Sr.) and Gene Boni for what they do over the year getting me prepared to play this wonderful game of golf,” added the 2012 champion.

Cox, a native of Defiance, felt his length off the green was a huge factor in the win over Schuessler, at 73, the oldest player in the field, and a four-time winner.

“My short game also helped a lot,” said Cox who was a semifinalist in 2012.

“I was two-up at the turn and overall, I played solid golf”

Zeller was six-up after the first nine holes and took honors on Nos. 1, 2, 4 and 5.

“My putting was very good today. I birdied the first hole right out of the gate then hit one out of bounds on No. 2 the second time around, but salvaged the hole with a long 40-foot putt for a bogey to halve the hole. That’s the kind of day I had,” the 2000 Sandusky High School graduate said.

“He played good an I played badly. That was it,” said Whelan, a 1989 champion.