Kim, Niebrugge lead way to APL quarterfinals

Michael Kim of University of California during the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational.

LORTON, Va. – Michael Kim’s dream week continues on. The California junior won both his matches Thursday and leads the final eight into the quarterfinal round in the 88th U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship at Laurel Hill Golf Club.

After easily making his way through the stroke play qualifying portion Tuesday, Kim was one of five players named Wednesday morning to this year’s U.S. Walker Cup team. Later that day he won his opening round match.

His round-of-32 match Thursday morning was a battle among Kims, as Michael Kim turned back Lucas Kim, 2-up. He followed by defeating Mitchell Rutledge 3 and 2 to keep on track toward his first USGA title.

“Overall, it was a good day,” said Michael Kim, who last season won the Jack Nicklaus and Haskins awards as college golf’s player of the year while finishing No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings. “I hit some good iron shots this afternoon, got off to a good start and then just tried to keep the pressure on.

“I think winning this afternoon was more special because last year I made it to the round of 16 and lost,” he said. “So this (advancing to quarterfinals) is a bit of an accomplishment, I guess.”

Against Lucas Kim, Michael Kim did not take his first lead until he birdied the 15th hole. He closed it out with another birdie at the 18th.

In his afternoon match, he never trailed. He won Nos. 6 and 7 with birdies to go 2-up. Rutledge won No. 8, but Kim came back to win Nos. 10 and 12 with birdies to go 3 up. After Rutledge won No. 13, Kim ended it with a birdie at No. 15.

“Right now, I’m just beat,” said Kim of how he felt physically. “It’s hot and it’s draining. But it’s like that for everyone else as well. I just have to suck it up and keep playing well.”

• • •

Of the three Oklahoma State players who made it to the match-play field, the youngest is the only one still in the saddle going into the quarterfinals.

And Jordan Niebrugge might just be the most impressive performer of any in the 64-player match play field.

After disposing of Kyle Weldon 6 and 4 in his morning round, Niebrugge, a Cowboys sophomore, came right back and defeated Justin Shin, a senior at New Mexico State from Hamilton, Ontario, 5 and 3. He won his opening match the previous day 4 and 3.

In the round of 16, Niebrugge was 2 up after five holes. Shin, the 2012 Northeast Amateur champion, won the fifth with a birdie, but Niebrugge surged back and won Nos. 5, 6 and 9 to go 4 up. He closed the match out in style with an eagle on the par-5 15th hole.

He was in control from the start in his morning match, going 3 up after five holes, then winning Nos. 7 and 9 to go 5 up at the turn; he ended things with a birdie at the 14th.

“I’ve been hitting it well all week and today everything really just clicked,” Niebrugge said. “I was hitting it close and making the putts. But, you know, matches like that are always a lot closer than what the score is.

“I’ve been playing well for a long time now,” he said, “and it’s good to know I can play with the top guys.”

Cowboys senior Ian Davis, the No. 2 seed, won his opening match 2 and 1 over Trevor Cone. It was a bit of a battle in the afternoon as he fell to just-graduated high schooler Robby Shelton IV of Wilmer, Ala.

Davis was 1 up through five holes, but Shelton won Nos. 6 and 9 to go on top. A par at No. 14 put Shelton 2 up, but Davis won the 17th to cut it to one going to the par-5 closing hole, where Shelton sealed the win with a birdie.

The previous day, the third Oklahoma State player, senior Talor Gooch, lost in 19 holes.

• • •

After surviving a grueling 19-hole match in the morning, James Erkenbeck put it on cruise control in the afternoon as he made his way into the quarterfinal round.

Erkenbeck, who was a first-team All-American as a senior last season at New Mexico, won Nos. 3-6 with a birdie and three pars to grab a 4-up command and went on to beat Mario Clemens, a senior at SMU, 5 and 4.

Earlier, he hung on and his par on the 19th hole, No. 1, produced his victory over Brandon Cigna.

“It’s hard to stay focused in that second (afternoon) round,” Erkenbeck said. You’re out here all day and battling the head and the competition. Even with that big lead early this afternoon, I never really felt comfortable. My main thing was not give away holes.

“I haven’t been hitting it all that well, but my putting and chipping have been pretty decent,” he said. “Everything has pretty much been mediocre, but so far it’s been good enough to keep going.”

• • •

Sean Knapp, 51, of Oakmont, Pa., and the oldest player to advance to the round of 32, saw his title hopes knocked off track when he lost 4 and 3 in the round of 16 to Austin Smotherman, 19, of Loomis, Calif.

The key stretch came on holes 5-7, all par 4s, when Smotherman made three consecutive birdies to go 3-up. It never got any closer than that and the 2012 California State High School Championship closed things out with a par at the 15th.

Playing in his 34th USGA Championship, Knapp had an easy go of it in the morning’s round of 32, rolling past Joshua Stone, 5 and 4. He was 4-up after six holes, gave one back at No. 9, then won 10 and 12 with birdies to go 5-up.

• • •

In other Sweet 16 matches:

• Zecheng Dou of the Peoples Republic of China who the battle of 16 year olds when he scored a 1-up victory over Sam Horsfield, a native of Manchester, England who lives in Davenport, Fla.

• Eric Sugimotto, a junior at Pacific who was the first round stroke player leader after a 7-under-par 63, won 2-up over recent Texas A&M grad Cameron Peck, the 2008 U.S. Junior champion.

• Kyle Henning won the final two holes to beat Carlson Cox IV, 1-up, in the final match of the day. Cox was 1-up through 16, only to have Henning win 17 with a par and 18 with a birdie.

• • •

ROUND OF 32

  • Sean Knapp def. Joshua Stone, 5 and 4
  • Austin Smotherman def. Thomas Lim, 3 and 2
  • Mario Clemens def. Nicholas Scott, 5 and 4
  • James Erkenbeck def. Brandon Cigna, 19 holes
  • Sam Horsfield def. Nick Brothers, 3 and 2
  • Zecheng Dou def. Sam Saunders, 3 and 2
  • Justin Shin def. Mitchel McLeroy, 20 holes
  • Jordan Niebrugge def. Kyle Weldon, 6 and 4
  • Ian Davis def. Trevor Cone, 2 and 1
  • Robby Shelton IV def. Derek Fribbs, 3 and 2
  • Michael Kim def. Lucas Kim, 2 up
  • Mitchell Rutledge def. Nick Sherwood, 1 up
  • Eric Sugimoto def. Kevin Josephson, 3 and 2
  • Cameron Peck def. George Cunningham, 3 and 1
  • Carlson Cox IV def. Paul McConnell, 2 and 1
  • Kyle Henning def. P.J. Samiere, 5 and 4

ROUND OF 16

  • Smotherman def. Knapp, 4 and 3
  • Erkenbeck def. Clemens, 5 and 4
  • Dou def. Horsfield, 1 up
  • Niebrugge def. Shin, 5 and 3
  • Shelton def. Davis, 2 up
  • Kim def. Rutledge, 3 and 2
  • Sugimoto def. Peck, 2 up
  • Henning def. Cox, 1 up
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