Joe Vennari of Catonsville won nine of the first 10 holes before Jack Vardaman of Washington whittled the lead to one, only to lose, 3 and 2, in the Maryland Amateur golf championship yesterday at Columbia Country Club.

If it were a boxing match, this scheduled 36-hole final might have been stopped early, as Vennari, the 1981 Maryland state high school champion (Atholton), shot the opening nine holes in 3-under-par 32.

And before he knew what hit him, Vardaman, who shot a sluggish opening nine of 43, was nine holes down.

But Vardaman, of Congressional Country Club, whittled the huge lead to four holes after the morning 18.

Vennari, who plays out of Turf Valley in Ellicott City, three-putted on the first two holes of the afternoon round to drop his lead to 2-up.

"I didn't think there was any way of him coming back to me, but he did," said Vennari, 22, who will graduate from Marshall University this fall and plans to move to Florida and hopes to turn pro. "I lost my concentration. It's hard when you come out hot . . ."

Vardaman, 47, a trial lawyer who upset seven-time Maryland Amateur champion Marty West in the quarterfinals, said, "I was down, but I wasn't out. I knew I was a much better player than that. I told myself to keep working and try to play my game."

Vardaman's efforts got the lead down to one hole when Vennari three putted No. 8 in the afternoon.

Then, Vardaman made the mistake from which he ultimately could not recover: "I hit a terrible shot," he said of a hook on the 10th hole. He lost the hole and went 2-down again.

Vennari seemed in danger of losing the par-4 15th hole after he hit a poor second shot into trees left of the green. But he made a great chip to three feet of the hole, made the putt for par and maintained his 2-up lead.

On the par-3 16th, Vardaman hit his tee shot 20 feet above the hole. But Vennari bettered that, hitting his shot within 12 feet. Vennari sank the putt to win the match.

"He regrouped," said Vennari. "He knew he wasn't out of it. He's a great competitor."