U.S. Junior: Medalist advances, defending champ doesn't

SHOAL CREEK, Ala. (July 23, 2008)--Top-seeded Jorge Fernandez Valdes, 15, of Argentina, advanced but defending champion Cory Whitsett, 16, of Houston, Texas, was defeated in Wednesday’s first-round matches at the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at Shoal Creek.

Twenty-one of the 32 matches were completed before play was halted by darkness. Play will resume Thursday morning.

Fernandez Valdes, who led the stroke play portion with a 36-hole total of 5-under-par 139, needed to make a 25-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole to advance over Cory McElyea, 16, of Santa Cruz, Calif. Neither player held more than a one-hole margin.

“I knew I was going to win,” said Fernandez Valdes, not meaning to be cocky in his limited English. “I had no more legs. I was tired. I couldn’t make putts like before. It was amazing.”

Dom Bozzelli, 17, of Pittsford, N.Y., won the fourth and fifth holes and slowly pulled away to earn a 4 & 3 victory over Whitsett, who was seeking to become the first player to win back-to-back titles since Tiger Woods did it in 1992-93.

Bobby Wyatt, 15, of Mobile, Ala., and Patrick Rodgers, 16, of Canada, earned one-sided victories.

Wyatt never lost a hole against Drew Preston, 17, of Ada, Mich., on his way to a 6-and-5 decision. Rodgers beat Parker Clowers, 17, of Jacksonville, Fla., by the same score.

“I felt comfortable with my lead after the 11th hole,” said Wyatt, who blasted from a greenside bunker and made a 35-footer for birdie to go 5-up.

Tom Lovelady of Birmingham, Ala., celebrated his 15th birthday with a big win over Dashiell Lindsell, 17, of Burlingame, Calif., 6 & 5.

“I won’t forget this day. It’s one of the best days I’ve ever had,” said Lovelady. “First, I made it to match play and then I won 6 & 5.”

Another favorite is Julian Suri, 17, of St. Augustine, Fla., who won his first match over Richard Lamb, 17, of South Bend, Ind., 5 and 4. He narrowly lost in a nine-hole playoff for the last spot in his U.S. Open sectional qualifier earlier this summer.

“He made some mistakes and took the pressure off of me,” said Suri, who was the equivalent of two under par for his 14 holes.

Michael McGowan, 17, of Southern Pines, N.C., is the lone fully exempt player to stay alive for the moment. He and Bhavik (Bobby) Patel, 17, of Bakersfield, Calif., are deadlocked after 21 holes. McGowan was a quarterfinalist in 2007. They’ll be back to continue their dual Thursday morning, starting on the 464-yard 4th hole.

The U.S. Junior Amateur is one of 13 national championships conducted by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.

--Story courtesy USGA

ABOUT THE U.S. Junior Amateur

While it is not the oldest competition, the U.S. Junior Amateur is considered the premier junior competition, having been around since 1948. The event is open to male golfers who have not reached their 19th birthday prior to the close of competition and whose USGA Handicap Index does not exceed 6.4. The U.S. Junior is one of 13 national championship conducted annually by the USGA, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.

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