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Tristate: Toscano charges to 3-shot victory

New Castle native is event's oldest champ

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

By Phil Axelrod, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Harry Toscano is a golfer for the ages in Western Pennsylvania.

And he seems to be an ageless wonder.

At the age of 61, Toscano became the oldest champion in the 41-year history of the Tri-State Open by shooting a 5-under 67 yesterday for a 4-under 140 total at New Castle Country Club.

John Aber's 71 put him in a tie for second place at 1 under with Kevin Shields (70-73--143). John Aubrey (75-70--145), Scott Davis (71-74--145) and Joe Boros (71-74--145) tied for third.

Bob Ford and Dennis Dolci each had 76s after sharing the lead with Shields at 2 under after the first round Monday.

Toscano also won the tournament in 1990.

"Was it that long ago?" he asked, chewing on his trademark cigar. "I can't hit it like I used to. I don't have a fastball."

Toscano could hit them long and straight with the big boys when he was a regular on the PGA Tour from 1966-74 and the PGA Senior Tour for several years until he stopped playing in 1996.

"The kids today are way by me. They're getting longer; you're getting shorter," Toscano said, smiling.

"It doesn't bother me. I didn't win too much when I really hit it."

It was a special thrill for Toscano to win at the New Castle Country Club because he grew up in New Castle and lives only four minutes away.

Toscano's 67 was the only round in the 60s in the tournament and was his lowest competitive score of the spring.

"In my mind, I'm always thinking I have a chance to win. You know what you want to do, but you don't always do it," he said. "I've always played by feel. When I used to get a good feel, I could keep it awhile. Now it goes from day to day."

Midway through a round of 73 Monday, Toscano felt like going home. He was 4-over after eight holes and not enjoying himself.

"When you're not hitting the ball, it's no fun," he said. "I was thinking, 'Should I continue?' All of a sudden, I started to play better. My pitching and chipping is a lot better. That used to be a weakness. I have better technique."

Toscano has a new belly-putter he has been using for about a year. It's got a long shaft he anchors against his sternum.

He didn't make any "snakes, 40 feet or anything like that" yesterday, but he sank solid putts from 8 to 12 feet for birdies at Nos. 1, 4, 5, 11, 15 and 16. His only bogey came on No. 12.

"I wasn't really thinking about what I was shooting," he said. "I was just trying to avoid some of the disasters I know are out here. I really didn't know how I stood."

Aber, playing in the group behind Toscano, came to the par-3, 183-yard 17th at 2 under and two shots behind. But his tee shot settled on the hillside above the left side of the green, and he chunked his delicate pitch and wound up with a bogey, ending what little drama there was.

"I think it's great he won it. Harry has a long history in golf around here," Aber said. "It doesn't surprise me that he won."

To win at this stage of his golfing career gave Toscano pause for thought.

"It's very flattering, very rewarding," he said. "I'm tickled to death. I really am. They treat me as the old man out here. They're probably thinking, 'Hell, maybe I've got a long career ahead of me, too.'"

Asked how much longer he expects to remain competitive with the young guys, Toscano spit out his cigar and grinned, "I love competition. I just want to tee it up and go."

NOTES -- Sometimes, it's better not to have the same name as a famous athlete. Jason Kidd, an amateur from Sharon, shot a 100 Monday for the highest round in the tournament. ... First place was worth $3,800. ... Ford holds the record with seven Tri-State Open titles.

Phil Axelrod can be reached at paxelrod@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1967.

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