Hillson a surprise in British Am quarters

FORMBY, England – Mark Hillson is the surprise package of this year’s British Amateur Championship. Most people wouldn’t have picked him to make the match play stages let alone the last eight.

In fact, Hillson probably wouldn’t have selected himself to get this far before the tournament began.

The 26-year-old Scot has grown in confidence with each round. Now’s he’s looking to go all the way.

The Edinburgh native won both his matches today to make the quarterfinals. He defeated Germany’s Stephan Jaeger, 6 and 5, in the third round and then defeated England’s Jack Bartlett on the last hole to set up a match against England’s Darren Renwick.

Hillson is the epitome of the late developer. He never played to any decent standard at the youth level. He could hardly hit his hat when he started university.

“I even struggled to get into the third team at St. Andrews University,” Hillson said.

Hillson was a 4 handicapper when he attended St. Andrews to study math. He got his degree, but he also made good use of the resident’s ticket to play the courses.

“It’s 110 pounds for a resident ticket and I did play a lot of golf.”

So much golf that since graduating from St. Andrews four years ago his handicap has come down to plus-2.

Nevertheless, his main claim to fame until now was captaining the British Universities’ team.

“I’m quite good at doubting myself about whether I should be here. But since I’ve been here there’s nobody I’ve played with or against that I believe is better than me.”

Every British Amateur throws up an unlikely name in the hat in the last eight. Last year, Welshmen Joe Vickery and James Frazar vied for that honor. In 2007 another Welshman in the shape of Jason Shufflebotham, now at Alabama, played that role. In 2006, England’s Jason Palmer was the unknown quarterfinalist.

Vickery was the only one of those four to get to the semi finals, mainly because he was up against Frazar in the quarterfinals. He went out in the very next round.

Whether Hillson can go all the way is debatable. He’d be a bit of a fairytale, rags to riches tale if he could emerge on top on Saturday.

Matteo Manassero continued his quest to become the youngest ever winner of the British Amateur. The 16-year-old has yet to play the 18th hole in any match this week. He was one down against Italy’s Joon Kim in the third round but won five straight holes to run out a 5-and-3 winner.

The precocious teenager had a tougher time against Denmark’s Peter Baunsoe, but still managed a 2 and 1 victory.

Manassero is bidding to break John Beharrell’s 53-year-old record as youngest winner. Beharrell was 18 when he won the 1956 British Amateur at Troon.

American interest in the tournament ended when Stanford’s Steve Ziegler lost to Renwick on the last hole. Ziegler, No. 17 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Ranking, missed a 15-foot birdie putt on the last hole that would have taken him to extra holes. That possibility ended when Renwick holed from 8 feet.

Ziegler was a member of this year’s U.S. Palmer Cup team. According to Dean Robertson, the victorious European Palmer Cup captain, Ziegler has a good chance of playing in this year’s Walker Cup.

“He’s a really strong player,” Robertson said. “I’d be surprised if he’s not in the American Walker Cup team.”

Virginia Tech’s Jurrian van der Vaart has a chance of emulating teammate Drew Weaver’s 2007 British Amateur Championship victory. He takes his place in the last eight against highly rated English player Sam Hutsby.

Tommy Fleetwood looks like a player on a mission to go one step further than last year. Last year’s runner-up dispatched Arizona State’s Jesper Kennegard in the third round, and then beat 30-year-old Liverpool native John Carroll.

Fleetwood faces the most intriguing match-up of the quarterfinals. He’ll need to get past Manassero to reach the final.

Ryan Dreyer’s hopes of traveling to the World Series of Poker as the British Amateur champion ended when he lost on the last green to English teenager Stiggy Hodgson.

Hodgson is the reigning England Under-18 champion. Last year he won the Carris Trophy, the England Boys’ Open Amateur Stroke Play Championship. Hodgson won that event at nearby Wallasey Golf Club.

Needless to say, Hodgson was right at home on the Formby links even if he was 19-years younger than his opponent.

Hodgson managed to keep his head while the reigning South African Poker champion lost his nerve when the stakes were highest.

Dreyer, a former Texas A&M player, hit his tee shot at 18 into the right hand rough and then his approach into a fairway bunker. With Hodgson only eight feet from the hole in two, Dreyer could only blast out to the back of the green. His par putt from 35 feet missed the hole and it was time to shake hands and head to Vegas.

Last year he finished 55th at the World Series and is hoping to achieve his dream of becoming world poker champion.

Hillson’s dream isn’t quite as lucrative, but it might be slightly more attainable.

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