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Barry takes aim at the SOGT record book

It could be now or never for someone to win the men's division championship three consecutive years in the Southern Oregon Golf Tournament.

Is that too dramatic of a set-up? Not really.

Mike Barry has won the last two crowns and is back in the field for the 80th edition this week at Rogue Valley Country Club.

Given he competed in the U.S. Amateur last week, was second in the city championships last weekend and has been dominant in the SOGT, he's the logical favorite.

And if Barry doesn't do it, he isn't likely to get another chance in the foreseeable future because he intends to pursue a professional career at the completion of his impending senior year at Oregon State.

"That would be cool if I could pull it off," says Barry.

The year before he began his victory string, the 22 year old debuted in the SOGT with a second-round loss. That match went six playoff holes, or 24 overall, before Adam Lacey of Portland emerged victorious.

Barry won't be the only player chasing a milestone. Kevin Klabunde is looking to become only the third player in history to win titles in the men's, junior-senior men's and senior men's divisions. He turned 55 this past winter and is eligible as a senior for the first time.

And three others — Brooks Newsom, Tommy Smith and Doug Olson — are in line to become the men's division's only four-time winners. Of course, they'll have to get through Barry and a number of other players with handicaps ranging from plus-3 to scratch or slightly higher.

The tournament begins today with qualifying for local men in all divisions. Qualifying resumes Wednesday for women and out-of-town entrants.

Match play begins Thursday and continues to Monday, when champions in all divisions and flights will be determined.

The tournament is the largest single-site match-play tournament in the U.S. and has a field of 384 players. Concern over a low turnout was eased by a late push of entries, raising the total to 28 more players than last year. A full field would be 416 players.

There are 112 entrants in the men's and senior men's, 96 in the junior-senior men's and 32 each in the women's and senior women's divisions.

All but one division champion returns to defend. In addition to Barry, junior-senior winner Glen Clark and women's titlist Trina Jones are back. Jim Smith is not entered in the senior men's, and there was no senior women's division last year.

For the first time, the championship flight of the men's division was reduced, cutting it from 64 to 32.

It won't lack for talent, however. Barry's plus-3.6 handicap is the lowest, followed by Chris Polski of Eugene at plus-3, 19-year-old Casey King of Blue River at plus-2.8 and Newsom at plus-1.3.

There are 17 players with handicaps of 1.7 or lower.

Barry came within one stroke of qualifying for match play at the U.S. Amateur early last week. Instead, he was in a 27-man playoff for four spots and came up short.

"I feel like my swing was really good," he said afterward. "My short game was working and I putted really well both days. I only had one three-putt, which I'm really excited about."

He initially planned to skip the Rogue Valley Stroke Play Championships over the weekend at Centennial Golf Club, but changed his mind. He finished second to Daniel Engle.

RVCC head pro Jim Wise won't count Barry out, certainly, but says a three-peat won't be an easy task.

"It would be quite an accomplishment," he says. "If it hasn't happened in 79 years, what are the odds of it happening this year? Mike's an awfully good player, but you can't take anything for granted, especially with match play. It's a whole different breed. Anyone can get hot at any given moment. He's been pretty hot in this tournament himself, but there are some good players coming in."

Last year, Barry defeated Klabunde in the final after Klabunde had beaten his former player at North Medford High a week earlier in the city championships.

Barry's revenge was thorough. He triumphed 10-and-9 in the 36-hole championship match.

In other title matches, Clark defeated Brad Bills, 2 and 1, in the 36-hole junior-senior finale; Smith downed Dan Dixon on the 20th hole in their 18-hole senior match; and Jones outlasted Kelly Loeb on the 38th hole of the 36-hole women's match.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com