2006 Champion and Story

State Fair Golf: El Dorado Hills' Niger finally wins the title

By Ray Hacke -- Special To The Bee

Phil Mickelson won his first major. Then the Boston Red Sox got their World Series. And Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher finally earned a Super Bowl ring. Add Bob Niger to that list of names giving hope to perennial also-rans.

After trying for more than two decades, the golfer from El Dorado Hills finally won his first California State Fair Men's Amateur Championship on Monday at the Haggin Oaks Golf Complex. Niger edged Marc Peterson of Modesto in a one-hole, sudden-death playoff to win with an 11-under-par 205. Niger, 46, estimated he has entered the tournament 20 to 22 times.

"This was my home course all through high school," said Niger, the runaway Northern California Golf Association points leader and reigning NCGA Stroke Play champion. "Me and my friends, when we played golf, we all talked about wanting to win the State Fair. It's the biggest (tournament) in Sacramento; being from Sacramento, that's the one you want."

On the playoff hole, Niger's first shot landed near a line of trees on the left side of the fairway. His next landed between two sand traps. From there he chipped onto the green, where he sank an easy four-footer.

Like Niger, Peterson got on the green in three shots, and his ball seemed even closer to the hole than Niger's. However, Peterson's gently-tapped putt lipped off the right side of the hole, giving Niger the win.

"I wasn't particularly pleased with my hitting for most of the day," said Peterson, a former NCAA Division II All-American at Chico State. "I was getting within 30 feet of every hole, which made it kind of difficult to make putts."

The playoff was only the tip of the dramatic iceberg for Niger. He began the day tied for 15th -- six strokes behind Peterson and Mike McRae, who were tied for the lead after two rounds at 10-under 134.

Niger was still trailing Peterson and McRae at 8-under after 16 holes Monday.

However, Niger eagled No. 17 and two-putted for birdie on No. 18.

Last year's State Fair champion, Erik Flores, finished tied for ninth at 6-under 210.