Tide's Wyatt, Thomas to face off at U.S. Amateur

Bobby Wyatt (left) and Justin Thomas

CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. – Bobby Wyatt and Justin Thomas are good friends, and as teammates last season at Alabama have played more practice rounds and friendly matches together than they can count.

Thursday afternoon, they will engage in yet another match. Only this time around, the stage will be bigger and the stakes much higher.

After winning their Round of 32 matches Thursday morning, Wyatt, a junior, and Thomas, a sophomore, will square off in the Sweet 16 round at Cherry Hills Country Club in the 112th U.S. Amateur Championship.

“Bobby and I have definitely played together a lot,” Thomas said after he posted a 3-and-1 victory over California senior Max Homa. “I’d rather we be facing each other in the finals, but it’s the U.S. Amateur and that’s the way it is. I’m sure both of us will really go after it and hopefully put on a great show.”

Alabama coach Jay Seawell shuffled between each of the morning matches to watch two of his star players. Now, he’ll have only one group to follow.

“They’re friends and they’re teammates,” Seawell said. “The bottom line is, they both want to win the U.S. Amateur. It’s nothing personal, just golf. I think they’ll have a good time and it will be a good match. The thing about it is, I get to clap on every hole.”

Wyatt, the No. 1 seed as stroke-play qualifying medalist, overcame a 3-down deficit and went on to beat Australian Matthew Stieger, 2 up.

“I wasn’t playing too hot early on,” said Wyatt, of Mobile, Ala. “But I told myself to just hang in there and stay patient. I knew there were still a lot of holes to go.”

Stieger was 3 up after six holes, winning Nos. 2 and 3 with birdies and 5 with a par.

Wyatt, a third-team All-America last season, came back and won Nos. 7 and 9 with birdies and then squared the match with a par at the 11th. He took his first lead of the match with a par at the 15th, only to have Stieger even things with a par at 16.

At the 545-yard, par-5 17th hole, Wyatt crushed a 392-yard tee shot and then hit a pitching wedge from 153 yards to 30 feet, winning the hole with a two-putt birdie. He won 18 with a conceded 15-foot birdie after Stieger missed the green and failed to get up and down.

“I’m proud of the way I hung in there and made a comeback,” said Wyatt, who earlier this summer won the Sunnehanna Amateur and finished second at the Players Amateur and Southern Amateur (losing in a playoff). “But I know I’m going to have to play better to have any chance against a great player like Justin.”

Thomas, a first-team All-America and the Division I player and freshman of the year, also fell behind early as Homa won the first two holes. Thomas, of Goshen, Ky., came back to even things with a birdie at No. 8 and a par at 9.

Homa went back on top with a birdie at 12, but Thomas answered one hole later with a par to square the match. Thomas closed out the match when he won the 15th with a bogey, and the 16th and 17th with birdies.

“I struggled at the start, but was able to hang in there, make some birdies and win some holes,” Thomas said. “Overall, I played pretty well.”

In some other Round of 32 matches Thursday morning:

• Of the eight mid-amateurs (25 and older) in the 64-player match-play field, only one remains in the Sweet 16. Bobby Leopold, 27, of Cranston, R.I., who advanced to this same round last year, won holes 12-15 and defeated Devin Miertschin of El Paso, Texas, 4 and 3.

• Steven Fox, a senior at Chattanooga, won the 18th hole with a bogey for a 1-up victory over Doug Hanzel of Savannah, Ga., who at 55 was oldest player in match play.

• Michael Weaver, a junior at California, won holes 13-15 to square his match and then won 17 and 18 for a 2-up victory over Patrick Rodgers, a sophomore at Stanford and a 2011 U.S. Walker Cup team member.

• Albin Choi, a junior at North Carolina State, won four holes between Nos. 10 and 15 and rolled to a 4-and-3 win over Belgium’s Thomas Pieters, this year’s NCAA champion who the day before ousted 2011 U.S. Walker Cupper Jordan Spieth, the low amateur at this year’s U.S. Open.

• Chris Williams, a senior at Washington and recent winner and medalist at the Western Amateur, won the opening hole and never looked back as he rolled past Adam Stephenson of Greenville, N.C., 5 and 3.

• Brandon Hagy, a junior at California, built a 6-up lead through 11 holes and cruised to a 5-and-4 victory over Paul Misko of Thousand Oaks, Calif.

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