Neff McClary of Fairfax took advantage of second-round leader Mike Howell's troubles and shot a final-round 74 to win his third Northern Virginia Amateur Championship yesterday at Washington Golf and Country Club in Arlington.

McClary, who won his first Northern Virginia title and also the Virginia State Amateur on this short but very exacting course, finished with a 54-hole total of four-over-par 214 to edge International's Howell and Army Navy's Peter Jacobi by one shot.

Jacobi parred the first hole of a playoff to edge Howell for second place. Jacobi shot a final-round 72, Howell a 77.

Howell, who led McClary by two shots heading into the final round, recovered from a 10th-hole triple bogey with an eagle on the 15th, momentarily tying McClary for the lead. Five-time winner Gill FitzHugh of Army Navy, drove into a creek on the 15th and finished fourth at 72 -- 216.

"I'm too old for this kind of thing," said former area junior standout McClary, who will turn 46 next week. "I've always played this course well. I'm not very long and I steer it good. You've got to keep it in play out here. I had a good caddie {Tom Payne}.

"I'd get down and act like I was reading the greens but he was really reading them," added McClary, who is in the commercial tile and marble business. "You got to wonder if you can be competitive anymore. Nobody wanted to win this."

Indeed, golfers treated the lead like the plague.

McClary birdied the fourth hole and took a one-shot lead when Howell bogeyed. After nine holes, the pair were even. On 10, a par-4, Howell dumped his third shot into greenside sand, blasted out and three-putted for a 7. But McClary, who opened a three-shot lead when Howell bogeyed the next hole, also self-destructed. McClary hooked his tee shot on the 12th out of bounds and muttered to himself, "I just stopped having fun."

Howell then re-ignited, rolling in a birdie on 14 and a delicate downhill 20-foot eagle putt on 15 to catch McClary, who was fortunate to par the 15th after driving into the creek.

Howell lost his share of the lead when he three-putted the 16th.

McClary led by one over Howell and two over Jacobi coming to the par-4 finisher. McClary drove to the right into a fairway bunker and played his second shot to about 20 yards short of the green. Jacobi hit his second shot onto the green about 15 feet from the cup. Howell put his just right of the green.

McClary pitched 15 feet above the hole. Howell chipped to 13 feet. Jacobi missed his birdie putt. McClary rolled his putt two feet past the hole. Howell missed his par putt. McClary tapped in his putt for bogey and victory.

Howell, of Centreville, had shot sterling golf the first two rounds with 68 and 70. "I was just fighting it all day," he said. "The triple bogey on 10 really hurt. Neff's a good player, he's really tough. It was a dogfight all day long."