By Ron Balicki
GLENVIEW, Ill. (Aug. 5, 2011) – It was a classic down-to-the-wire thriller, filled with some excellent golf and some genuine sportsmanship.
It was what you might expect when the world’s top two amateurs and a pair of 2011 U.S. Walker Cup teammates go head-to-head on one of the major stages in the amateur game.
And in the end, it was Patrick Cantlay making par on the first extra hole to edge Peter Uihlein on Friday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the 109th Western Amateur at North Shore Country Club.
Cantlay secured the match with a two-putt par from 15 feet on the first playoff hole. Uihlein overshot the green by a couple of feet, and his ball settled into the 6-inch-high rough. He chipped out and the ball rolled some 20 feet by the hole, where his par putt came up just short.
Cantlay, who advanced from a two-man playoff to secure the 16th and final spot in the match-play field the previous day, will take on Jeffrey Kang, a sophomore at USC, in Saturday morning’s first semifinal match. Kang advanced by beating Andrew Putnam, 1 up.
In the other semifinal, Cheng-Tsung Pan, an incoming freshman at Washington, will play Ethan Tracy, a senior at Arkansas. Pan edged Stanford first-team All-America Andrew Yun, 1 up, and Tracy downed two-time U.S. Junior Amateur champion Jordan Spieth, 2 and 1, in the quarters.
The two semifinal winners will face off Saturday afternoon in the 18-hole championship final.
The Cantlay-Uihlein match went back and forth from the start. Uihlein, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, won the first hole with a birdie, but Cantlay, college golf’s freshman and player of the year last season at UCLA, won Nos. 5 and 6 to go 1 up.
Uihlein then looked like he might pull away when he won holes 8, 9 and 10 to go 2 up, but Cantlay came back with birdies at Nos. 12 and 13 to square the match. Cantlay won 14 and Uihlein 15, each with birdie, and the two came to the par-4 18th all square.
Both hit perfect drives in the fairway. Uihlein’s approach came to rest 25 feet left and high of the hole, while Cantlay also was left, after 21 feet and in the same line as Uihlein’s ball.
Uihlein’s putt rolled less than a foot past the hole and Cantlay conceded the par before rolling his putt 3-4 feet by the hole. Uihlein took a couple of steps toward the hole, surveyed the situation and told Cantlay “that’s good.”
“I was very surprised,” Cantlay said of Uihlein’s concession. “But we’re friends and we were really having a great match. It’s the closest back-and-forth match I’ve ever played.”
Said Uihlein, who defeated Cantlay, 4 and 3, in the semifinals at last year’s U.S. Amateur, “He wasn’t going to miss that putt. Besides, you like to see a match between the two of us end with a birdie or a good shot. For me, I just wasn’t sharp today and didn’t play well enough this afternoon to win.”
Cantlay said the key to the match was when he two-putted from 15 feet for birdie at the par-5 12th, then hit his tee shot on the par-3 13th “to a couple inches” for a gimme birdie. That squared the match and helped set the stage for the finish.
“I felt confident starting the day. I always want to feel confident in match play,” said Cantlay, who this summer made the cut in four PGA Tour events. “I was fortunate enough to squeak into match play, and now I’ve won two matches. We’ll just have to see what happens tomorrow.”
Kang and Putnam also went back and forth throughout their match as neither held more than a 1-up advantage. They came to 18 all square. Putnam pulled his tee shot into the trees, punched out and hit his third shot to 20 feet. Kang’s approach shot from the fairway was about 15 feet right of the hole. After Putnam just missed his par putt, Kang lagged his par putt to a foot and it was over.
“It was a grind out there,” Kang said. “Both of us played well. We hit a lot of good shots and a few bad shots, and I’m lucky to come out on top. It’s pretty special because last year (at Western) I lost to (David) Chung in the quarterfinals, so I’m glad to be moving on to the semis.”
Getting to the semifinals also was special for Pan. He earned stroke-play medalist honors in this event the past two years, only to lose in the first round. He also didn’t make it past the first match of last year’s U.S. Amateur.
“The victory this morning (20 holes over Patrick Rodgers) was very important to me,” said Pan, who was 2 up through 15 against Yun and hung on for the win as both made par on the 18th hole. “It gave me a lot of confidence and proved to me I can win in match play. Overall, it was a very good day.”
Tracy looked like he was going to make it quick and easy when he won holes 6 and 7 with birdies to go 3 up. But coming down the stretch, Spieth had a different idea. The incoming Texas freshman won holes 14 and 15 with birdies, cutting Tracy’s lead to 1 up. Both then made par at 16 and Tracy closed it out by winning 17 with a par.
“I knew it was going to be a tough match, and I knew I was going to have to make birdies to win. Overall, I did everything pretty well. Mostly, I played smart shots when I got in trouble. It feels great to be going on to the semifinals,” said Tracy, who made it to the Sweet 16 last year, but lost in the opening round.