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(Steven Gibbons/USGA)
Midway, Utah – James Erkenbeck fired a bogey-free 4-under-par 67 on Tuesday for a 36-hole total of 7-under 135 to earn medalist honors at the 2012 U.S. Amateur Public Links.

Talor Gooch, who shot a championship-best 64 early on Tuesday, and T.J. Vogel, who carded a 65, finished a stroke back at the par-71, 7,670-yard Soldier Hollow Golf Course.

The low 64 players advanced to match play, which begins Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. MDT. The match-play cut came at 4-over 146 with exactly 64 players.

Erkenbeck credits his length and familiarity with altitude for his success. He is a rising senior at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, which is situated at 5,500 feet above sea level – the same elevation as Soldier Hollow.

“The course sets up good to my eye,” said Erkenbeck, 22, of San Diego. “The course isn’t playing super-long for me. I only hit two or three drivers today. If I can hit a pitching wedge or gap wedge into [the 540-yard 11th] where other guys are hitting 5- or 6-irons, it makes it a lot easier for me.”

Vogel, 21, of Miami, started the day at even par, but wasted no time getting into red figures. Starting on the 10th, he birdied holes Nos. 11 and 13 and holed his approach for eagle at the 15th.

“The gallery threw up their hands so I knew it went in,” said Vogel of his wedge at the 420-yard par 4.

He added birdies at 16 and 18 to go out in 6-under 29. Despite his array of birdies, it was a par putt that convinced Vogel he could go low.

“I hit a short 5-foot par putt on the hole just before the eagle,” said Vogel, who won two collegiate events at the University of Florida this past season. “After that I had a feeling it was going to be a good day.”

Gooch, 20, of Midwest City, Okla., birdied his first two holes, on his way to making eight in total, during his nearly record-tying round. Danny Green shot 63 at Rush Creek Golf Club in Maple Grove, Minn., during the first round of the 2004 APL.

“It was one of those days where everything was on,” said Gooch, a rising junior at Oklahoma State University. “I only missed one or two fairways and maybe one green. When you’re getting that many opportunities, you have a chance to shoot a score like this.”

On Monday, Gooch four-putted the 10th hole for double bogey to drop to three over for the championship, but remained confident that he could turn it around.

“Just because you’re three over through 10, it doesn’t mean the tournament is over,” said Gooch, who lost in the round of 16 in the 2011 APL. “I tend to make my birdies in bunches so I knew if I just stayed patient and hit fairways and greens, I was eventually going to make some birdies.”

Gooch finished before an early-afternoon thunderstorm suspended play for 33 minutes. When play resumed, first-round co-leader Jace Long continued his stellar play, following his opening-round 67 with a 1-under 70. He birdied two of his last three holes, including a 9-iron to six feet on the 18th, but said the course changed as the day wore on.

“Conditions were drastically different today,” said Long, 22, of Dixon, Mo. “It got brown, it got firm and the greens were rock hard. It was a good day for me overall and I’m happy to be in match play.”

The other overnight leader, Cheng-Tsung Pan, 20, of Chinese Taipei, played what he termed a “boring” round, making two birdies and two bogeys for an even-par 71. While his ball-striking was just as good as it was during Monday’s 67, he felt he let some strokes get away on the greens.

“I hit lots of fairways and lots of greens, but the putting wasn’t as sharp as yesterday,” said Pan, a rising sophomore at the University of Washington.

The 2012 U.S. Amateur Public Links is the first USGA championship held in Utah and two residents of the Beehive State will be moving on to match play. Ogden’s Zac Blair (71-69–140) and Sandy’s Dan Horner (69-71–140) were both comfortably within the top 64, along with BYU’s Justin Keiley (69-71–140).

The APL is one of 13 individual national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.

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