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WOODS BACK IN FAMILIAR TERRITORY

Defending champion Tiger Woods beat one 43-year-old in the U.S. Amateur semifinals Saturday to earn the the right to play another in the 36-hole final.

Woods, who became the youngest-ever amateur champion last year, will face George Marucci, who ended 18-year-old Steve Scott's bid to replace Woods as the youngest winner, in today's final.The last repeat champion was Jay Sigel in 1983.

Woods, 19, advanced with a 2 up win over Mark Plummer, a liquor salesman from Manchester, Maine. He consistently drove longer than Plummer but kept him in the match by narrowly missing a string of birdie putts on the back nine at Newport Country Club.

"It's just one of those days when you hit what I would consider perfect putts," Woods said. "And I just hit edge after edge after edge."

Plummer, an eight-time Maine Amateur champion and two-time New England amateur winner, last reached match play in the U.S. Amateur in 1983 and had never won a match in the tournament before his semifinal run this week. He defeated Jason Enloe, of Decatur, Ill., 3 and 2 in Saturday morning's quarterfinals.

"It was just a dream, really," Plummer said. "It's something I never expected, just an amazing time. Just to get in the position to beat Tiger Woods."

The match was a study in contrasts between the stout Plummer, with his Craig Stadler-style mustache, red hair and jerky, unorthodox swing, and Woods, the lanky Stanford student who has been golfing since he was 6 months old and has one of the most perfect swings in the game.

Overmatched by Woods' power, Plummer nonetheless kept close all the way. Woods surrendered two 1 up leads in the early going, but the match turned on 14 and 15, which Plummer bogeyed while Woods made par.

Woods rolled a birdie 10-foot putt to the right of the pin on the par-3 14th, but Plummer rimmed a 3-footer for par, allowing Woods to go 1 up.

Woods' second shot on the par-4 15th rolled down the high side of the green within five feet of the cup.

Meanwhile, Plummer's tee shot went into a bunker on the right side of the fairway and his second shot left him 20 feet in front of the green. His third shot died 12 feet short of the pin and he missed the par putt.

Woods missed his birdie putt, but Plummer conceded the par, putting Woods 2 up.

"I was very patient," said Woods, who earlier Saturday won a quarterfinal match 5 and 3 over Scott Kammann of White Pine, Tenn. "I knew this guy was going to be a tough match, a fighter."

Plummer fought back by parring 16 as Woods bogeyed, dropping his second shot into a trap behind the green. Both players parred 17.

Plummer's tee shot on 18 went way right into the rough and his second shot landed at the base of a hill leading to the green. Woods reached the green in two and missed a birdie putt, but Plummer missed his putt for par and conceded the final 11/2-foot putt.

"I'm probably the happiest loser you'll see," Plummer said. "(Woods) has got experience in a caliber of golf I've never seen except sitting in my lounge chair."

Marucci, an auto dealer from Berwyn, Penn., reached his first U.S. Amateur final - and qualified for next year's Masters - by winning 19th-hole playoffs in both his Saturday matches.

"This is it, this is my career," said Marucci, who had not advanced beyond the round of 16 in 16 previous U.S. Amateurs. "I think it's just been a perfect week."

Especially perfect for Marucci was the par-5 10th, which he birdied three of four times Saturday, including birdies on both playoff holes.

"I was real tight," he said, "(but) I hit two or three really good tee shots off 10."

In the semifinals, Marucci's 4-foot birdie putt after chipping out of the left bunker eliminated Scott, of Coral Springs, Fla., whom he trailed 1 down after 16 holes.