TRUCKEE, Calif. –– Match play is always touted as a different animal. It’s a format in which anything can happen, and the opening round of match play Wednesday at the U.S. Junior Amateur was no different.
Medalist Jim Liu, the 2010 U.S. Junior champ, needed 19 holes to knock off No. 64-seeded Matthew Lowe. That was one of seven matches to go extra holes on Wednesday.
Two matches pitted two highly ranked players against each other, and both lived up to their billing. Doug Ghim won his last two holes to defeat Adam Wood, 2 and 1, while Jorge Garcia needed seven holes to take a lead on Andy Zhang before closing out the 2012 U.S. Open qualifier, 3 and 1.
Brad Dalke beat one of his best friends, Alvaro Ortiz, 4 and 3, and Scottie Scheffler and Sam Horsfield cruised in their matches, Scheffler winning, 7 and 5, and Horsfield taking his match, 7 and 6.
Here are 5 Things to know from the opening round of match play Wednesday at the U.S. Junior:
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1. NEW LIFE FOR GHIM: Doug Ghim said it best Wednesday following his 2-up victory over Adam Wood in the opening round of match play.
“Being able to play today, I felt like I was resurrected,” said Ghim, who a day earlier had just squeaked into match play at 6 over.
Ghim and his father Jeff waited anxiously Tuesday as the projected cut line moved higher and higher. Ghim went from outside the cut right after his round to avoiding a playoff for the final spots by one shot.
“My dad and I promised each other we weren’t going to look (at the scoreboard), but we couldn’t get away from it,” Ghim said. “And then all of sudden we found out we were in, and then we were like, ‘We made it; now we have to get back to why we’re here.’ ”
Ghim then laughed before adding, “And then I find out I got Adam Wood.”
The matchup pitted two top-15 players in the Golfweek/Sagarin Junior Rankings, and looked more like a late-round match than a first-round one. But on Wednesday, neither admitted to playing like it.
Both players began the match with three straight pars before Ghim birdied the par-5 fourth to take a 1-up lead. Wood then made a long par-saving putt to halve No. 5.
But then “we started hitting some weird shots,” Ghim said.
Wood flew the green on his approach while Ghim plugged his ball in a greenside bunker. Both made bogey. Wood evened things up a hole later, at the par-5 seventh, before Ghim missed a 4-footer to win the hole at No. 8.
Two holes later, at the long par-5 10th, Wood was just off the green in two while Ghim needed four shots to reach the green. Ghim stuck his fourth to within 2 feet and was conceded par. After thinking he had lost the hole, Ghim then watched as Wood chunked his chip and then took two more shots to halve the hole with par.
“I told my caddie I felt like I had nine lives after that,” Ghim said.
The two then halved the next three holes, two with bogey, including at No. 12, where Wood chunked his approach from the fairway about 15 yards. They then traded holes with birdie, Ghim winning No. 14 and Wood taking No. 15.
That’s when Ghim made the putt of the match. He found the rough at the short par-4 16th before hitting his approach onto the back fringe. After Wood hit his approach to about 4 feet, Ghim figured he’d have to make his 15-footer for birdie.
“That was the biggest part of the match because Adam was gaining momentum and I was losing momentum,” Ghim said. “I didn’t see the read, but I prayed when I hit it and it went dead-center of the cup.”
Ghim turned toward the next tee box, but then glanced back to see Wood had missed the short birdie putt to halve the hole. Ghim then closed out the match with par at the par-3 17th after Wood’s chip from the back of the green went 8 feet past and he missed the par putt.
“I didn’t play very well at all, to be completely honest,” Wood said. “I don’t know how many over par I was, but it was a lot. I didn’t hit the shots when I needed to, missed a couple short putts and he took advantage of my mistakes.”
After nearly missing match play, Ghim, who will face William Gordon in Thursday’s Round of 32, has found new life in this tournament.
“I could’ve not been here today,” Ghim said. “Standing on the first tee box today I said to myself, ‘Well, you got a second chance. Now it’s time to make the most of it.’ ”
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2. DEJA LIU, PART II: Jim Liu found himself in a similar position Wednesday – and in more ways than one.
The Stanford signee was competing in the Round of 64 as the U.S. Junior medalist for the second straight year. He later found himself losing the 18th hole to send his match into extra holes, something he did earlier this month at the British Amateur, where he lost in the semifinals to eventual champion Garrick Porteous.
And finally, there he was again on the par-4 first green, facing a 7-foot birdie putt to win the match.
“Basically had the same putt as this morning,” said Liu, who missed his first attempt at birdie at No. 1 earlier in the day before tapping in to save par.
Eighteen holes later and Liu got another crack at birdie at No. 1. And this time he drained it to defeat Matthew Lowe in 19 holes and keep his hopes for a second U.S. Junior title alive.
“It’s golf; you can’t expect to play well every day,” Liu said. “But it’s about the days where you don’t have your best game and you just grind it out.”
And that’s just what Liu did Wednesday. He went 1 up after his par on the opening hole, but Lowe birdie the par-3 third hole to square the match back up. Low then took the lead after Liu double-bogeyed the par-4 sixth and maintained that advantage until Liu evened things up with birdie at the par-4 ninth hole.
Both players led again before the match went to the par-4 16th hole all squared up. That’s when Liu hammered a 3-wood just short of the green and then two-putted for birdie to take the lead.
“I’ve played enough of these where you can’t really force your game,” Liu said. “It’s either there, or if it’s not there you just have to see what you can do.”
Liu’s game clearly wasn’t firing on all cylinders. One such example came at No. 18, when he found the rough off the tee before flying his approach too far. The ball hit pin-high, rolled through the green and came to rest in the rough. He then attempted to chop an 8-iron at it and ended up chunking the shot. That left him with a 40-footer for par, which he missed to extend the match.
Despite playing the No. 64 seed, Liu knew it wouldn’t be as easy as the seeds would suggest.
“Those matches sometimes are the harder ones,” Liu said, “and I was luckily enough to grind through it.”
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3. HEAVY HEART: Scottie Scheffler easily advanced to the Round of 32 on Wednesday, beating Spencer Painton, 7 and 5.
“I built up a big lead and kind of cruised, started going for the middle of greens,” said the Texas commit.
But golf isn’t the only thing on Scheffler’s mind this week.
Scheffler was introduced to James Ragan’s foundation, Triumph Over Kid Cancer, through the Texas Legends Junior Tour.
Ragan, 19, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of pediatric bone cancer, when he was 13. Since then, he’s undergone several chemotherapy treatments, has had part of his lungs removed and his legs reconstructed with metal. The former walk-on for the Rice men’s golf team, Ragan also had to give up the sport he loves, something that weighs heavy on Scheffler’s heart.
“He’s been going through this for a while,” Scheffler said. “I heard about his story through junior golf and I’ve been donating a lot of money to (his foundation) and keeping him on my mind.”
Last summer, Ragan’s doctor gave him three months to a year to live. A year later, he’s still fighting cancer, but his foundation has continued to raise money for cancer research. Ragan’s foundation reached the $750,000 mark in donations last year.
“His organization probably won’t help him survive,” Scheffler said, “but it will help other kids.”
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4. ANDY VS. GARCIA: Jorge Garcia drew fellow Floridian and friend Andy Zhang in the first round of match play.
Zhang, of course, qualified for the 2012 U.S. Open at Olympic Club and also made match play at last year’s U.S. Junior.
But Garcia let it be known after his 3-and-1 victory over Zhang on Wednesday that he’s no stranger to big tournaments, either.
“I played in the Puerto Rico Open, so I think we both have our own experiences,” said Garcia, referring to his first PGA Tour start last March – in which he made the cut. The Florida commit also has two notable junior wins this season, at the AJGA Puerto Rico Junior and the Thunderbird International Junior.
But Wednesday, neither player performed at their usual high level. Zhang birdied the opening hole, the par-4 first, to take an early 1-up lead. But that would be the only birdie he’d make all match. Garcia also made just one birdie, at the par-5 seventh, where he took his first lead in the match – a lead that he kept for the remainder of the match before closing out Zhang with par at the par-3 17th hole.
“It was a tough match,” Garcia said. “Andy has a bright future and is a great player, too. We both didn’t play very well, but that’s the thing about match play. Sometimes you play well and you lose, and sometimes you play bad and end up winning.”
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Six of the 32 matches Wednesday went to extra holes, including two that went to 20 holes. Aaron Terrazas defeated Wes Artac on the second extra hole while Jooho Lee also needed two more holes to put away Thaddeus Obecny. . . . Sam Horsfield won the first hole of his match and never looked back, notching six birdies – some conceded – to record a 7-and-6 victory over Dean Sakata. . . . A couple of surprising results: Sean Crocker routed Austin Connelly, 7 and 5; Ben Griffin fell to Justin Suh, 6 and 4; and Will Grimmer, who shot 59 in the North and South Junior, lost, 3 and 2, to Nick Hardy.