5 Things: Jim Liu is medalist again at U.S. Junior

Jim Liu is all smiles after posting his second consecutive round in the 60s to become medalist during the final day of stroke play at the 66th U. S. Junior Amateur Championship.

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TRUCKEE, Calif. – Jim Liu is trying to become just the third player to win multiple U.S. Junior Amateur titles – Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods are the others.

Tuesday, he became the third player to win stroke-play medalist honors twice – placing him in the company of Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods. Liu shot a bogey-free 5-under 67 Tuesday at Martis Camp Club to take medalist honors by two shots over Cameron Young.

The Stanford signee shared medalist honors a year ago at the Golf Club of New England in Stratham, N.H., before losing in the match-play final to Andy Shim.

Now he’s back for one last shot at a second title. He’ll be joined in Wednesday’s first round of match play by 63 other players, including Scottie Scheffler, Jorge Garcia, Sam Horsfield and Brad Dalke.

Liu won’t know who he’s playing in the Round of 64 until Wednesday morning, though. Seven players, including Andy Zhang, grabbed spots via a playoff Tuesday evening before play was called due to darkness. Four players will compete for the final spot at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Here are 5 Things you need to know from Tuesday’s final round of stroke-play qualifying:

• • •

1. DEJA LIU: Jim Liu already has broken Tiger Woods’ record for youngest U.S. Junior champion when he won in 2010 at 14 years old.

Now he’s equaled another one of Woods’ U.S. Junior records.

Liu’s 8-under 136 two-day total was enough to give him his second straight medalist honor, joining him with Willie Wood (1977-78) and Woods (1991-92) as the only repeat U.S. Junior medalists.

Of course, Liu already knew that upon exiting the scoring tent following his bogey-free 5-under 67 on Tuesday.

“I was reading through the player packet they gave us because at the players meeting they said you better read through all of it, so I just thought I might as well take a look,” Liu said.

Liu bogeyed the final two holes of his first round Monday – the only two he’s made so far this week in competition. And he started his second round with a three-putt for par at the par-5 10th.

But experience kicked in for Liu. He stuck an 8-iron to 5 feet at No. 11 and made birdie. Then he two-putted for birdie from just off the green at the par-5 No. 15. On the front nine, he birdied Nos. 1-2 – he stuck a wedge to 2 feet at No. 2. His final birdie of the day came at the par-5 No. 4, where he reached the green in two with 6-iron and two-putted from 20 feet.

“It’s always nice to know that you’ve played well going into match play, and to be medalist is a good honor, as well,” Liu said.

Now it’s time for Liu to wipe the slate clean – “I’m kind of used to it, actually,” Liu quipped.

“Once tomorrow starts, you just have to start all over and start the grind,” he added.

Liu can make history this week with a victory. A win could also further help him make the U.S. Walker Cup team.

His credentials definitely make him a worthy candidate. Liu has played in mostly amateur events this year in order to gain experience. He also wanted to travel before heading to Stanford in the fall.

Liu recently made the semifinals of the British Amateur, a performance that no doubt made him a strong candidate for one of the final Walker Cup spots. A good finish in Truckee, along with solid showings at the Western Junior and U.S. Amateur could seal the deal.

“Every other amateur out there is trying to make a run. . . . I’m going to have to play some really good golf,” Liu said, “and not just this week.”

• • •

2. MAVERICK BACK AGAIN: Before Maverick McNealy made it to the quarterfinals of last year’s U.S. Junior in Stratham, N.H., he was relatively unknown in most junior-golf circles.

Sure he had just committed to Stanford. But he didn’t play a lot outside of California, competing in mostly NCGA events. And he didn’t just focus on golf, either, also playing competitive ice hockey.

A year later and McNealy is now signed with the Cardinal. He’s quit ice hockey, too, in order to give his full attention to golf. He does still play mostly in his home state, though, a trend that continues this week as McNealy looks to repeat last year’s U.S. Junior success at Martis Camp Club.

So far, so good, too. McNealy shot 3-under 69 Tuesday to qualify for match play at 3 over. The round made up for a first-round 78 – a round that “felt like I played like 85, but scored 78,” McNealy said.

“I felt more pressure Monday,” McNealy said. “Coming into today I felt like I had the worst possible scenario and I was still in the chase, just had to go out there and keep fighting. I knew I had the ability. It was just more of, could I pull it off?”

McNealy started the day with a bogey at the par-4 first hole. But he went bogey-free the rest of the way, adding four birdies in the process.

“Something clicked,” said McNealy, who felt like his game resembled that of practice rounds Friday and Saturday, when he was “really confident and feeling great.”

One of those practice rounds he played with fellow Stanford signee Liu. It was just the second time the two had met, the first being at last year’s U.S. Junior.

“It’s good to finally play with him,” McNealy said of Liu. “He’s a great guy and I’m really looking forward to having him on my team this fall.”

Liu’s already got one U.S. Junior title. Now McNealy, who still feels like he’s a little under the radar, wants one of his own.

• • •

3. HERE’S ONE FOR LITTLE BRO: Alvaro Ortiz gets asked about his brother a lot, and for good reason.

His older sibling, Carlos Ortiz, was named to the All-Sun Belt team all four years at North Texas. He also helped lead Mexico to the men’s title at the 2013 Copas de las Americas. And he just qualified for next month’s U.S. Amateur.

“I’m really proud of him,” said the younger Ortiz, who qualified for match play of the U.S. Junior after rounds of 70-74 at Martis Camp Club. “He’s done a lot. I hope I can do that when I’m his age.”

Alvaro said he and his brother play golf together a lot and are pretty competitive with each other – “We don’t like each other on the course,” he quipped.

It’s safe to say Carlos has the upper hand in this sibling rivalry. But Alvaro has bragging rights on at least a couple things.

Not only is he competing in his first U.S. Junior this week – something Carlos never did, falling short three times in qualifiers – but Alvaro also secured a spot in match play. His first-round 2-under 70 gave him some cushion before a 2-over 74 on Tuesday.

“I felt pretty good,” Alvaro said. “The practice rounds, I didn’t feel that comfortable with my ball striking. But these last two days, I’m hitting the driver just perfect. I’m rolling it pretty well, too, just the putts haven’t dropped yet.

“But I’m hoping in match play they do.”

• • •

4. HE’S FURR REAL: Wilson Furr just turned 15, but he’s already starting to pile up the accomplishments.

He won the Future Masters last month in Dothan, Ala., then won his U.S. Junior qualifier by three shots the next day. Before that, he advanced to U.S. Open sectional qualifying before missing out on a spot in the U.S. Open by five shots.

Now, playing in his first USGA championship, Furr advanced to match play after shooting a second straight 1-under 71 Tuesday at Martis Camp Club.

“That was my only goal, so I made my goal,” Furr said. “It’s a great feeling. It’s an awesome tournament and to make match play is a really good accomplishment.”

Furr shot 3-under 33 on the back nine to start his second round before two bogeys in his final three holes dropped him back to 2 under overall. Still, Furr said he wasn’t nervous – mostly because of his recent sectional-qualifying experience at Colonial Country Club in Memphis.

“That really helped me prepare for this,” Furr said. “(Sectional qualifying) was the most nerve-racking thing I’ve done. To go through that and learn and experience – I don’t wanna say this was easy, but it was easy mentally – I just had to go out there and play well and I did.”

• • •

5. SHORT SHOTS: Andy Zhang, who qualified for the 2012 U.S. Open, was one of 12 players tied for 57th at 7 over. With eight spots on the line in the playoff, Zhang was one of seven players to make par at the par-3 17th and qualify for match play. Joining him were Dean Sakata, Will Bernstein, Chase Johnson, Coleman Self, Spencer Painton and Matt Echelmeier. Ben Doyle, Victor Ponte, Matthew Lowe and Jae Hoon Kim made bogey and will play for the final spot at the par-4 18th at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday. Will Minton made triple bogey at No. 17 and was eliminated. . . . Luis Gagne shot 3-under 69 Tuesday to make match play. Even more impressive is the fact that his second round came after he experienced a severe nosebleed Sunday night and also battled a stomach illness prior to his first-round 78 Monday. . . . Shuai Ming Wong, the second youngest player in the field at 13 years old, followed his first-round 4-over 76 with a second-round 80 to miss out on advancing to match play. . . . The highest-ranked player to miss the match-play cut was Sam Burns. Ranked No. 21 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Junior Rankings, Burns shot 76-77 to miss the cut at 9 over. It also was Burns’ 17th birthday Tuesday.

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