Williams repeats as Western Am medalist

Chris Williams

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. – Same tournament. Different course. Same player and same overall result – only better.

That was the story for Chris Williams when the 72-hole stroke-play portion of the 110th Western Amateur came to a close Thursday at the historic Donald Ross-designed Exmoor Country Club course.

A year ago at North Shore Country Club in Glenview, Ill., also just outside of Chicago, Williams set a Western Amateur qualifying record when he captured medalist honors with a 16-under par total.

This time around the senior at Washington went one better. With a final round 5-under 67 to go with his morning 66 and previous efforts of 72-66, Williams again claimed the qualifying medal with his new record 17-under 271.

Fifteen other players from the field of 56 who made the 36-hole cut, followed Williams into the Sweet 16 and the match play portion of this grueling and demanding championship.

The 16 survivors begin match play Friday morning with the eight winners advancing to the quarterfinals later that afternoon. The semifinals are set for Saturday morning with the championship final in the afternoon.

Finishing two shots behind Williams at 15-under 273 was Lorens Chan of Honolulu, and a incoming freshman at UCLA. Chan, at 18 and the youngest player to advance into match play, shot 68-67.

Justin Thomas, Abraham Ancer and Jeffrey Kang followed, all closing with 5-under 67s to finish at 12-under 276.

Another shot back were Peter Williamson (69), winner this summer at the North & South Amateur and Southern Amateur, Kevin Penner (68), and Daniel Nisbet (67), while Zac Blair, with a afternoon’s low round of 7-under 65, was next at 10-under 278.

Jordan Russell (70), Brandon Stone (68) and Alex Moon (73) followed at 279.

Eight players tied for 13th at 280 and squared off to determine the final four spots.

Cheng-Tsung Pan gained the initial spot with a birdie on the first playoff hole (No. 1) and Sean Dale and MacKenzie Hughes joined him with birdies on the next hole (No. 18).

Then things got really interesting. After Richard Lamb made bogey on the fourth playoff hole (No. 18) and Pedro Figueiredo and Matthew Stieger made par, it appeared the playoff would continue with two for one spot.

However, at that time, it came to the tournament committee’s attention that Stieger's caddy was fellow Australian Daniel Nisbet, who qualified for the Sweet 16, tying for sixth.

“At that point (after fourth playoff hole) it came to our attention that one player in the playoff had a caddy who had qualified for the 16,” said Vince Pellegrino, vice president of tournament for the Western Golf Association. “Under our tournament rules, under conditions of competition, if this happens both players are disqualified.”

So just like that, Stieger and Nisbet were out. Filling the final two Sweet 16 spots were the last two other playoff players, Lamb and Figueiredo.

“This is a very unfortunate circumstance,” Pellegrino said. “But it’s clearly stated in the rules and it was the only option we had.”

It definitely had been an emotional two days for Stieger. The Australian was cruising along in the second round before making triple-bogey 7 on the 18th hole for a 73. He came back and shot the tournament’s best score -- an 8-under 64 -- Thursday morning. He appeared safely in match play, standing at 11 under, only to finish with a double bogey at 17 and a bogey at 18 for a closing 75 that sent him into the playoff.

Williams, a first-team All-America last season and a member of the 2011 U.S. Walker Cup team, got off the a slow start with bogeys at Nos. 1 and 3. Then he caught fire. Williams, who had a tournament leading 26 total birdies, made two of them at Nos. 5 and 9. He kept rolling with birdies at 10, 11, 12, 14 and 16.

“Last year was pretty impressive, but obviously it’s more impressive by one shot this year,” said Williams, the 2011 Pacific Coast Amateur and Sahalee Players champion. “I’ve been working hard all year and it finally paid off, which is nice, especially coming in a tournament like this. Right now, I’m pretty happy with myself.”

Williams, who last year lost in the first round of match play to Patrick Cantlay, said he’s been putting a lot of pressure on himself this summer to fulfill his own high expectations. This week he came out with a new outlook.

“It’s all about attitude,” Williams said. “For a while it was so frustrating. I came out this week and just let if flow and whatever happened, happened. Sometimes that’s not easy to do and I was fortunate it all came together so far this week.”

Chan, the 2011 Hawaii State Amateur champion, got off to a fast start with an eagle on the par-5 opening hole. He added a birdie at the next, but made bogey at the fourth. He followed with birdies at 5, 6, 12 and 15, which got him to 16 under total and tied with Williams. But a bogey at 17, coupled with Williams’ birdie at 16, left him two shots shy.

“This has been a pretty awesome week,” said Chan, whose mom Linda is caddying for him all week. “What a great way to give me a jump start going into college. It’s definitely helps give me confidence and shows me I can play at this level.

“Today was a very good day,” said Chan, who earlier this summer tied for sixth at the Pacific Coast Am, qualified for the U.S. Amateur, and tied for 12 at Sahalee. “I mean I played well myself and then I had front row tickets to watch one of the best amateurs in the world (Williams) play two great rounds of golf.”

Thomas, college golf’s player and freshman of the year in his first season at Alabama, is playing in his second Western Am, but this will mark his first appearance in match play.

His closing round 67 was filled with high and low points. He birdied Nos. 1 and 6, bogeyed 7, birdied 9 and bogeyed 10. Then he ran off a string of five straight birdies (11-15) before closing with a bogey at 18 when his approach shot found the right greenside bunker.

“I started making some putts today,” said Thomas, who won four tournaments as a freshman, including the Southeast Conference and NCAA Southeast Regional. “I didn’t hit it all that well so I need to get my irons straightened out. I think match play is a cool format so I’m really looking forward to it.”

Thomas has some experience at match play, being a finalist at the 2010 U.S. Junior, a member of the 2010 Junior Ryder Cup team, and a member of this year’s Palmer Cup team.

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