With another 66, Williams claims Western medalist

Washington's Chris Williams, shown during the 2010 NCAA Championship match-play quarterfinals, shot his second straight 66 to take a three-shot lead at the Western Amateur on Wednesday.

GLENVIEW, Ill. – Chris Williams finally took a short trip on a side road off of his Route 66 journey, got back on that main highway and arrived at his final destination safe, sound and, most importantly, successful.

Williams, a junior at the University of Washington, had shot four consecutive rounds of 66 -- in the final two rounds at the Pacific Coast Amateur last week and in the first two stroke-play rounds this week at the Western Amateur at North Shore Country Club.

Thursday morning he veered off his main road with a 1-under-par 70 in the third round, but jumped back on track in the afternoon with another 5-under 66 and coasted in on cruise control to earn qualifying medalist and the No. 1 seed heading into Friday’s match play portion of this storied event.

Williams, who won the Pacific Coast Am, finished the 72-hole stroke play qualifying with a tournament record 16-under-par 268. That bettered the mark of Aron Price, who shot 15 under in 2004 at Point ‘O Woods Golf and Country Club.

“This absolutely is the best three days of golf I’ve ever played,” said Williams, who this summer qualified for the U.S. Open and won the Sahalee Players Championship and the Pacific Coast. “In fact, considering last week, it’s by far the best consecutive golf I’ve ever played.”

And, it certainly has come at a most opportune time. The USGA last Sunday named four players to this year’s U.S. Walker Cup team -- Patrick Cantlay, Peter Uihlein, Russell Henley and Harris English -- and is expected to name four more following this week’s Western Am.

Although there’s still the match play portion remaining before the 110th Western Am champion is crowned, Williams, who is considered among those already on the short list for selection, certainly made a big-time statement in his favor.

It took a score of 2-under 282 to advance to the Sweet 16 of match play and the final spot was landed by Patrick Cantlay, the freshman and college player of the year last season at UCLA and who made the cut this summer in four PGA Tour events, including being low am at the U.S. Open and shooting a second round 60 at the Travelers Championship.

Cantlay sank a 10-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole (par-4, first) to beat Michael Cromie and gain the right to meet Williams in Friday’s opening match play round.

If there was a player of the day award it would have gone to Patrick Rodgers, an incoming Stanford freshman. Winner of the Porter Cup last week, Rodgers fired back-to-back, tournament best rounds of 6-under-par 65s.

In his morning round he had six birdies, an eagle and a pair of bogeys.

In the afternoon Rodgers was 3 over through four holes after a bogey at No. 3 and a double at No. 4. Then he played his final 14 holes in 9 under with seven birdies and an eagle and finished second, three shots behind Williams at 13-under 271.

“Believe it or not, I actually gave some strokes away on the greens in the morning,” said Rodgers. “But I’m definitely not complaining. I made a ton of putts out there today. My goal coming in was to get to the Sweet 16 and I did that. Now I just have to keep doing what I’m doing in match play.”

Joining Williams, Rodgers and Cantlay in the Sweet 16 are Jordan Spieth, Emiliano Grillo, John Hahn, Derek Ernst, Cheng-Tsung Pan, uihlein, Gregor Main, Mackenzie Hughes, Ethan Tracy, Jeffrey Kang, Andrew Putnam, Andrew Yun and Alex Kang.

After his so-so morning 70, Williams was still a bit sluggish to start the afternoon. He made bogey at No. 1, but birdied No. 2. After six holes he stood at 11 under and held a mere one-shot lead over Spieth and Grillo.

Then Williams turned on the burners. He drained a 35-foot putt for eagle at No. 7 and birdied No. 8. He lipped out birdie putts at 9 and 10, then came in with birds at 11 and 12. He finished out with a bogey at 13 and a birdie at 16.

“I really had nothing going all day,” Williams said. “Then I made that eagle and that really kick things in. It really gave my round a jump start.

“In the morning the putts just weren’t falling,” he said. “Then in the afternoon the 15-20 footers started to drop and I made fewer mistakes. But the main thing was putting, that’s been the main thing all week.

“I struggle with my putting for a while. I was focussing on the process and less on the outcome and beating myself up when they weren’t falling. I was getting too caught up in it. Now, I’m staying relaxed and just letting things happen,” Williams said.

For the 72 holes, Williams had 45 pars, 20 birdies, six bogeys and an eagle over the North Shore layout which had its fairways protected by thick, gnarly rough and some players said was more penal than that at this year’s U.S. Open.

Now, for the Sweet 16, it’s on to match play where eight matches will take place Friday morning followed by the quarterfinals in the afternoon. The four semifinalists come back to play Saturday morning with the championship final match in the afternoon. All matches are 18 holes.

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