Benton Harbor, Mich. (Thursday, July 31) – Kyle Stanley and Philip Francis, two Western Amateur Sweet 16 veterans, surged into the 36-hole lead Thursday in the 2008 Western Amateur at Point O’Woods Golf & Country Club.
Stanley, who reached the quarterfinals in 2007, fired a 7-under-par 63, the low round of the championship, to tie Francis at 6-under-par 134 atop a list of 46 players who survived the 36-hole cut at 142. Following the final two rounds of stroke play Friday, the field will be trimmed to 16 players for Saturday’s first round of Sweet 16 match play.
Francis, who advanced to the quarterfinals in the 2005 Western Amateur at age 16, earned a share of the lead with a 6-under-par 64 Thursday.
Stanley, of Gig Harbor, Wash., and Francis, of Scottsdale, Arizona, both will carry added confidence into Friday’s 36-hole marathon quest for medalist after their two-day performances at the Point.
“There’s a lot of golf left. Being medalist would be great, but match play is where you’re going to win the tournament,” cautioned Stanley, who lost to eventual runner-up Alex Prugh in the 2005 quarterfinals. “This year I would like to make it a little farther …”
Stanley, who won the 2008 Southern Amateur and qualified for the 2008 U.S. Open – missing the 36-hole cut by just a stroke – eagled the par 5, 555-yard second hole Thursday, dropping a 20-foot putt after hitting the center of the green with a 2-iron approach.
“I hit the ball better today,” he said. “I had a lot of good putts lip out yesterday, and today they went in. And I gave myself a few more chances today.”
Francis, 19, had a shaky start this week, bogeying his way to 3-over-par through his first nine in Wednesday’s opening round. Since then, he’s carded nine birdies and no bogeys over 27 holes.
“I came in today thinking I have a lot of confidence in my ball-striking and making putts,” said Francis, a UCLA sophomore who helped lead the Bruins to the 2008 NCAA Championship.
Some of that confidence stemmed from his 38th place finish at the PGA TOUR’s John Deere Classic in mid-July. A third-round 64 put him within striking distance of the lead heading into the final round.
“I was in contention on the last day,” he noted. “Being out there with some of the best players in the world gave me a lot of confidence … gave me confidence coming in here.”
A solid day on Friday will earn Francis a berth in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005.
“The difference between now and 2005 is that I’m much smarter on the course – my course management is 100 percent better,” said Francis. “I’m putting well, hitting the ball well. I just have to continue managing my game. It’s a real good start, but I can’t let up. It’s only two days.”
Stanley, 20, a Clemson University junior, was a 2007 NCAA first-team All-American, finishing second in the 2007 national championship. In 2006 he won the Southern Amateur and the Sahalee Players.
Francis, playing in his fifth Western Amateur, won the 2006 U.S. Junior and the 2006 Rolex Tournament of Champions. A three-time AJGA All-American, he was runner-up in the 2004 Western Junior and low amateur in the Arizona Open at age 14.
Tied for third, two shots back, are Rory Hie, 19, of Los Angeles, California, and Morgan Hoffman, 18, of Wyckoff, N.J.
“This is my fourth year here, and I’ve never made it to match play,” said Hie, a University of Southern California junior. “I really want to do well … I feel pretty confident. Hopefully, I’ll make match play and go from there.”
At 4-under-par 136, Hie has reason to be confident.
“I hit a lot of greens today, and it could have been better if I had made a few more putts,” he said.
A 2008 NCAA first-team All American, Hie said this has been “a breakout year,” with wins in the Dogwood Invitational and two collegiate events.
“I’ve always worked hard, but I have a different mindset. I don’t think about mechanics,” he said. “I’m more of a feel player now.”
For Hoffman, the secret to success this week has been consistency.
“I have all 34s,” he said, going 34-34-68 on Wednesday and Thursday.
“I’ve missed some putts, but I’m pleased,” said Hoffman, who joins the star-studded Oklahoma State University team as a freshman this fall. “I’m hitting fairways and greens and that helps a lot.”
Playing in his first Western Amateur, Hoffman said he’s enjoying walking the fairways at the Point O’Woods.
“The course is awesome. It suits my game,” he said. “A course like this really tests your skills.”
With two more rounds to play before the Sweet 16 cut, Hoffman is looking for his love affair with the Point to continue.
“I’d really like to win the stroke play, and if I keep playing like I am, I think I have a chance,” he said.
Hoffman, a 2007 AJGA first-team All-American, placed second in the 2008 Metropolitan Stroke Play and Houston Boys Invitational, finished fifth at the 2008 Terra Cotta Invitational and was a quarterfinalist in the 2008 North and South Amateur.
“I’ve been playing amateurs this whole summer to get ready (for college play at OSU),” he said. “It helps to play with good players.”
- story courtesy Western Golf Association