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ROLAND, Ark. – It was a wild and crazy ride for Patrick Rodgers Friday in the final stroke-play round in the 111th Western Amateur at The Alotian Club.
But when his journey reached its final destination, it was mission accomplished – and in a most impressive manner.
The Stanford junior closed with a 3-under 69 – his fourth consecutive round in the 60s – earning him medalist honors with a Western Am qualifying-record 18-under 270, including a bogey on his final hole.
“It was a grind out there for 18 holes,” said Rodgers, who earlier this month was named (for the second time) among the first five selections for this year’s U.S. Walker Cup team. “I’m just happy to get in under par and be medalist and have my name on that trophy with some of golf’s greatest players.”
Rodgers’ performance certainly impressed Alotian Club founder Warren Stephens.
“I never dreamed that 18 under would be the score for the medalist on this golf course,” Stephens said. “It was just a phenomenal performance by Patrick.”
Now the fun really begins as the field, after being cut from 156 to 44 and ties after two rounds, is down to 16 for the match-play portion of the grueling championship.
The Sweet 16 and quarterfinal rounds will be played Saturday, followed by the semifinals and final Sunday. All matches are 18 holes.
It took a score of 5-under 283 for a tie for 13th, and five players went into a playoff for the final four spots.
Playing the par-4 18th hole, Beau Hossler and Talor Gooch moved on with pars. At the second playoff hole, again No. 18, Keith Mitchell made birdie and Sean Dale par to gain the final two spots. The odd man out was Cory Whitsett, who had gotten into the playoff after a final-round 69, when he made bogey by missing his 5-foot par putt. On the first playoff hole, Whitsett saw his par putt lip out.
When regulation play was finished, Ian Davis appeared to be part of the playoff. However, he was informed that he had to take a one-stroke penalty from an incident that occurred the day before.
At the 10th tee Thursday, Davis was in the process of hitting his tee shot when his ball rolled off the tee. However, he was unable to completely stop his swing and he followed through, brushing the ball, which rolled about 10 feet.
An official at the scene told him that he could re-tee, which he did and continued playing, finishing what he thought was a 3-under 69.
“The incident did not come to our attention until this afternoon,” said Vince Pellegrino, vice president of tournaments for the Western Golf Association. “He should have played the ball where it lay. However, he was given an incorrect ruling by the official.
“Because it was an incorrect ruling by the official, we did not disqualify him for signing an incorrect scorecard, but had to give him a one-stroke penalty,” Pellegrino said. “He was making a stroke on the ball, and the key is he did make contact so that has to count as a stroke.”
Rodgers’ day consisted of just eight pars. Starting out with a four-stroke lead, he birdied the first three holes. After bogeys at Nos. 4 and 6, he birdied seven and then eagled the par-5 eighth. He made bogey at the 10th, then after six straight pars, birdied 17, only to bogey the last.
“I got on the wrong side of the hole a few times and it cost me,” said Rodgers, a first-team All-American. “But this is a tough golf course, and there were some tough pin placements out there today.”
While being medalist is an honor, Rodgers knows all too well that there is still a lot of work left before someone hoists that championship trophy late Sunday afternoon.
“This is really two tournaments,” he said. “I took care of business well in the first one, and now it’s time to move on and get ready for the second one (match play). Come tomorrow, there’s 16 players starting from scratch.
“For me, I just have to keep playing like I’ve been playing, making birdies and not making any silly mistakes,” Rodgers said. “As we all know, anything can happen in match play.”
Rodgers finished stroke play three shots better than Carlos Ortiz, a recent North Texas grad who closed with a 67 for 15-under 273. Like Rodgers, he posted four rounds in the 60s.
Next was Jordan Niebrugge, who had a 72 to get to 277. Sharing fourth at 9-under 279 were Kramer Hickock after his closing 68, and 15-year-old David Snyder, one of the youngest players in the field.
For Ortiz it was a bogey-free final round and one that saw birdies at Nos. 4, 5, 8, 13 and 17.
For Niebrugge, his play is a continuation of his solid performances the two weeks prior to the Western Am. Niebrugge, who had three bogeys and three birdies, won the U.S. Amateur Public Links title two weeks ago and last week captured the Wisconsin State Amateur Championship.
“Obviously, I’ve been playing some really good golf these past three weeks, maybe the best I ever have in a stretch like that,” said Niebrugge, a sophomore at Oklahoma State. “Today was tough. I really had to grind all day.
“I putted pretty well, made some really good two putts and a number of solid up-and-downs,” he said. “I missed a few opportunities, but I’m happy with how I ended up.”
Niebrugge said he learned a lot about match play as he won six matches on his way to the APL title.
“The thing I know is you have to keep playing, never give up,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in the lead in a match or you’re behind; you have to keep grinding. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
In addition to Whitsett, another of this year’s Walker Cup selections, Justin Thomas, missed the Sweet 16 after a closing even-par 72 finished tied for 21st at 3-under 285, while mid-amateur Walker Cup hopeful Todd White placed T27 at 2-under 286. Still, White, who had top-10 finishes earlier this year at the Jones Cup and Northeast Am and a semifinalist at last year’s U.S. Mid-Am, was the tournament’s low mid-amateur.