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Ahlgrim shoots 69 to lead City Golf qualifying field

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Steve Ahlgrim has been a perennial contender since winning his only City Men’s Golf Championship 23 years ago in 1989.

Could this be the year the city dentist ascends back to the top after a superb qualifying round?

Playing in the first group off the tee at 7 a.m., Ahlgrim fashioned a 3-under par 69 Saturday at Watertown Golf Club to lead the 61-man qualifying field.

Playing under cloudy skies with intermittent rain most of the round, Ahlgrim recorded four birdies and a lone bogey to best son Paul Ahlgrim, 2003 champion Joe Tufo and 11-time winner Bob Hughes by a stroke for medalist honors.

Former champions James Ambrose (2009) and Toby Draper (2004) were at even-par 72s along with Chris Denesha. Adam Brown, the 2005 winner, shot 73 as it took an 81 to make the championship flight.

Michael Burgess birdied the first playoff hole to secure the 31st spot and Ralph Larsen had a par on the 19th hole to claim the 32nd and last spot in today’s first round of match play.

Defending champion Ryan Clark took the automatic No. 1 seed and will open play against Larsen this morning.

Ahlgrim, playing alongside 2010 champion Tyler Woodward (78) and Ambrose in a power threesome, began his round with an inauspicious bogey 5 on the first hole. But he quickly birdied No. 2 (6-foot putt) and No. 3 (8-footer) before parring the final six holes on the front side to make the turn at 1-under par.

Ahlgrim stuck his approach shot on the short par-4 12th hole to six inches to make birdie, and then birdied the demanding 444-yard, par-4 17th before parring the last for an inward nine of 34.

“I left six or seven birdie putts out there, or it could have been lower because I hit the ball really well,” Ahlgrim said. “I figured there was a 65 or 66 out there because the conditions were good for scoring.’’

But that didn’t happen as the rain increased in intensity most of the morning.

Hughes, who has been battling through some shoulder problems and hasn’t played much, surprised even himself with how he scored.

“I’ve played in a few scrambles and one 18 hole round, and I hit the ball pretty well,’’ said Hughes, who last won the last of his record 11 city titles in 2002. “But today I felt very comfortable with all the clubs so I was pretty happy.’’

Tufo said he also “left some putts on the course’’ en route to what he said was his first under-par round of the season.

“I’ve been close, but the last three holes have been killing me,’’ said Tufo, who recorded an eagle-2 on the par-4 13th hole. “Today I played them in even par so that made me feel good.’’

Paul Ahlgrim almost tied his father for medalist honors. But he missed a short par putt on the 17th hole and had to settle for a 2-under-par round.

Four-time champion John Bufalini charged out of the gate with an eagle on the first hole and a birdie on two. But a triple-bogey eight on the par-5 sixth hole set him back before he shot a 35 on the back side for his 72.

“The par 5s killed me today,’’ said Bufalini, who played No. 6 and No. 10 in 4-over. “Other than that, I hit a lot of good shots.’’

Draper was also sizzling on the front side, going 5-under par through the first six holes with birdies on 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 and shot 31 on the opening nine. But he struggled home with a 41.

In today’s championship flight matches, Draper plays Shane Wisner, Bufalini meets E.J. Mentry, Tufo takes on Adam Brehm, Hughes plays Mike Donnelly, Ambrose drew Jim Nevers, Paul Ahlgrim goes against Jacob Baldwin, Woodward meets Tim Phillips in a matchup of former champions, Adam Brown plays Tom Bedard and Steve Ahlgrim takes on Burgess.

See the Times scoreboard for the complete list of matches and tee times.

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