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Bills looking for three-peat

You could lay a couple of bills on Brad Bills to win the city golf tournament and probably get decent odds.

Not that Bills isn't capable. He's won the last two Rogue Valley Stroke Play City Championships at Cedar Links Golf Club.

But another?

"I'd love to three-peat," says Bills, who a shot 2-under-par 138 last year and won by four strokes over Kelly Rasmussen and Bret Breeze. "But that's much easier said than done. You don't get too many opportunities to win something three times in a row, so I'll definitely be trying my hardest."

Given the talented, Who's-Who-of-local-golf field, the par-70 layout that invites risk then hangs those unable to execute and greens that send balls amok like ice cubes on the kitchen floor, a third straight title would be impressive.

It also would be unprecedented in the championship flight, which features 20 players with handicaps of 5 or lower and some who are pluses.

Bills has three titles, having also won in 1995. Kevin Klabunde is the only other three-time winner, in 1990, '91 and '98, since the current format was adopted in 1989.

"Winning the city tournament is pretty special," says Bills, noting the event stands on its own merit even though it falls between the Rogue Valley Country Club Championships and the weeklong Southern Oregon Golf Tournament.

Bills has struggled recently, he says, particularly with his putter. He failed to make the cut last weekend in a state stroke-play tournament, but in the process received a tip he hopes will strengthen his putting.

Rasmussen, who has two seconds and a third the past three years and partners with Bills in the annual Chapman tournament at Cedar Links, expects Bills to again contend.

Consistency off the tee and with his medium and long irons fortify Bills' game, says Rasmussen, but it's his putting that often separates him.

"Last year in the first round," says Rasmussen, "he made two putts from off the green and two long puts of 30 or 40 feet. That stuff is out of my league and was the difference in the tournament."

Such exploits might come in handy again because there is no dearth of challengers to the crown.

In addition to Rasmussen and Breeze, there are Brooks Newsom, who shared the first-day lead a year ago at 69 after five straight birdies on the back; Scott Tuttle, Glen Clark, Mark DeBoer, Justin Wise, Russell Horn, Jerry Anderson, Ian Parent and Bill Albers, to name a few.

"What makes this a good tournament," says Breeze, "is the field. It's extremely strong. I think it'll take 6 or 7 under to win it this year."

Breeze won the Cedar Links club championship recently over DeBoer and has posted a couple of rounds in the 60s of late at Rogue Valley.

He's not taking anything for granted, however.

"I feel like my swing is coming together," he says, "but it comes and goes. Usually, when you think you're playing well, that's when the wheels come off. You need to just hit one shot at a time, add them up when you're done and see what happens."

There are a lot of things that could happen on a course that features holes of little, moderate and extreme difficulty.

Some have multiple personalities.

For instance, players can try to reach the par-4 third in one, but run the risk of going out of bounds right or in trees left. They can do likewise on 14, but could go OB or find themselves in peril above a steeply-sloped green. They can try to skirt a pond on 15, and either be safe, in the drink or OB.

"If you know the course well," says Rasmussen, "it's certainly an advantage. There's a lot of strategy involved. You can play about nine holes differently, depending on the situation you're in. It's a unique challenge."

In the senior division, Bob Harrell won his third championship-flight title last year with a 1-over 141.

In the women's division, Lunetta Ah Sam triumphed with a 166.

There are about 140 players in the field, including about 40 seniors but only about 10 women.

Scott Lusk, the Cedar Links head pro, is mystified over the low turnout among women and encourages any who are interested to sign up.

As in other divisions, flights are separated by handicap, with gross and net prizes in each.

"If there are ladies who want to come out and play," says Lusk, "we have lots of room."

Bills looking for three-peat