Wheaton, Ill. (July 11, 2007) – Mark Harrell can officially put the bull’s-eye on his back. The 21-year-old from Hazleton, Ga., carded a 2-under-par 70 at Cantigny Golf in the weather-delayed second round Wednesday to garner stroke-play medalist honors at the 2007 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship.
Harrell’s 5-under 139 total was two strokes better than 22-year-old Clayton Rask of Otsego, Minn., Eddie Olson, 19, of Aptos, Calif., and Lucas Lee, 19, of Brazil. Harrell and Rask were grouped together for the two rounds of stroke play.
Danny Lee, 16, of New Zealand, a quarterfinalist at the 2006 U.S. Junior, finished three strokes back at 2-under 140, while Zack Byrd, 21, of Calabash, N.C. was four strokes behind. They were the only players to finish under par during stroke play, which carried over to Wednesday due to weather suspensions on Monday and Tuesday afternoon.
Defending champion Casey Watabu, 24, of Kapaa, Hawaii, rallied from an opening-round 80, which included a quintuple-bogey 10, to shoot a 4-under 68 (4-over 148) and make the match-play cut, which came at 7-over 151. Nineteen golfers were in a playoff for the final 16 spots in the match-play draw.
Harrell, in fact, hit one practice ball on Tuesday when the horns blew at 4 p.m. CDT as he began preparations for his second round. But on Wednesday, the competitors were greeted with chamber-of-commerce weather – cool, breezy conditions with temperatures in the 70s.
“Well, I guess the tournament begins now,” said Harrell, a 2007 U.S. Open qualifier who missed the cut last month at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club by one stroke. My first mission is accomplished by making match play and getting a good seed. That was the goal coming in. You’ve got 156 guys and you want to set your goals high. I wanted to win stroke play.”
It took Harrell about seven holes to adjust to the conditions. Because of the overnight rains, the golf course, especially the greens, softened a bit from Monday morning. Harrell made the turn at two over, but then birdied holes 12, 13, 14 and 17. He got the momentum going with a 20-footer at 12 and then hit a 4-iron to 10 feet at the par-3 13th. At the par-5 14th, Harrell two-putted from the fringe for birdie. At 17, he knocked a 6-iron to 18 inches for a tap-in birdie.
“I got it going on the back and hit a few shots close to turn it around,” said Harrell.
Harrell, a rising senior at the University of Alabama, is no stranger to doing well in stroke play. At the 2006 U.S. Amateur, he was the No. 2 qualifier, only to get beat by former Georgia Tech All-American Roberto Castro, 3 and 2. He was one over through 16 holes at Hazeltine and still was eliminated, so Harrell knows the vagaries of match play.
“Just stay in the moment,” he said. “It’s still just one shot at a time. You are playing one guy, but you are playing the golf course, too. You have to balance those two.”
Olson, a redshirt sophomore at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, registered four birdies and one bogey in his 3-under-par round of 69. His lone hiccup was a bogey-5 from the middle of the fairway at 15. His birdies came at four, seven, 10 and 12.
“I’ve been playing well,” said Olson, the runner-up at last week’s Sahalee Players Amateur in Seattle, Wash. “I played about the same [Monday], but I just didn’t get much out of my round. I bogeyed the last hole, which left a bad taste in my mouth. Overall, I am pleased and I should be in pretty good position [for match play].”
Olson was also quite happy to get a day off, while some of his friends played as many as 32 holes on Tuesday. “I think I got the good side of the [draw],” he said. “I got to relax and take it easy. I slept in and watched movies.”
Perhaps nobody in the field had more of a roller-coaster second round than Watabu. He shot a 5-under 31 on Cantigny’s second nine (he started on No. 10) and then double-bogeyed one and bogeyed three before play was suspended on Tuesday. He came out on Wednesday and missed a 10-foot par putt at No. 4. Then he chipped in for birdie from 70 feet at the fifth, rolled in a 30-footer from the fringe at six and got up and down for birdie at the par-5 seventh, the same hole, where he registered the 10 in round one.
“I’m just glad stroke play is over,” said Watabu, who defeated current PGA Tour rookie Anthony Kim in last year’s final at Gold Mountain’s Olympic Course in Bremerton, Wash. “It was kind of a blessing that they called it [when they did] because the wheels were coming off. I was falling apart. I got to regroup and go out this morning. I just got my energy [back]. I think I was running out of gas.”
Story written by USGA staff writer David Shefter. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.