DINUBA -- Porterville High's Nate Jessup admittedly played the front nine at Ridge Creek Golf Club rather conservatively during the Central Section Individual Golf Championships.
"I was just plopping along," Jessup said. "Nothing real special. My goal was to just keep it in the fairway and make some putts."
The senior took a more aggressive approach on the back nine, however, and it paid off with five birdies as Jessup rallied for a one-stroke victory over Stockdale's Pete Fernandez on Tuesday for the title of the 48-golfer tournament.
Jessup finished with a 4-under 68 to head up the section's 15 golfers who qualified for the Southern California Regionals on June 3 at SCGA Golf Course in Murrieta.
Jessup, who finished in a four-way tie for second in this event last season, was in a four-way tie for third at the turn with a 2-under 34. Fernandez was at 4-under 32, while defending tournament champion Manov Shah of Centennial, Clovis East's Bryson DeChambeau and Clovis West's Grant Yamaguchi all shot 33s.
But while most of the field struggled on the back nine, Jessup came out strong, with birdies on Nos. 10, 11 and 12 to take his first lead of the day at 5 under.
A bogey on No. 13 and a double-bogey on No. 14 left Jessup trailing Fernandez and Yamaguchi by a stroke, but he would birdie Nos. 15 and 16 to reclaim the lead and shoot par on the final two holes to hold on for the victory.
"I didn't let those two holes get to me," Jessup said. "I was thinking, 'This is my senior year, I want to leave on a strong note.' I feel I did that. I'm very pleased with how I played."
Jessup's rally from disaster on Nos. 13 and 14 didn't surprise his coach.
"I knew from the start he'd do well," Porterville's Lynn Enos said. "He's the type of player who, if he gets himself down, he can get back up again."
Jessup earned his third trip to the SoCal Regionals. He went last year as the Panthers qualified as a team, and he qualified individually as a freshman.
"It's a fun course," Jessup said. "I had a great time there with my team last year. It just stinks I can't go down there with them all again this year."
Fernandez had a chance to tie, but scored a bogey on No. 18 and settled for a 69. Yamaguchi was done in by a double-bogey on No. 15, finishing at 1-under 71.
DeChambeau, a sophomore, will be making his second straight appearance in the regionals. He finished tied for 23rd last year with a par 72.
"I'm definitely happy," DeChambeau said. "I'm trying to get to state and win it."
Tyler Zaentz (73) and Jeffrey Roseth (73) are the first golfers from Fresno Christian to qualify for regionals after becoming the first to play in the section individual championships.
"I was really striking it well," said Zaentz, who rallied to earn his spot in regionals with a back-nine 35. "I didn't make a lot of putts, but I reached the par-5s and got some birdies."