5 Things, St. Louis: Blake pulls away late

Jay Don Blake during sectional qualifying in St. Louis for the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion.

Jay Don Blake during sectional qualifying in St. Louis for the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion.

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Champions Tour regular Jay Don Blake emerged out of the field of 42 that was battling for two trips to play in the 2013 U.S. Open. Blake posted the lowest 18-hole score of the day to distance himself from the pack, but it was a playoff that decided who would seize the final spot.

Here are 5 Things to Know about U.S. Open sectional qualifying at Old Warson Country Club in St. Louis, Mo.:

• • •

1. DAY OF THE DON: Jay Don Blake cashed in his streaky play in his first round for a first-place finish and a ticket to Merion on Monday.

Blake shot three straight bogeys on holes No. 13-15 in his first round, but he responded with four straight birdies starting on No. 18 to end his first round and continuing with holes No. 1-3 to start his second round.

After finishing 18 holes at even par, Blake shot a 3-under 68, pulling away from the pack with five birdies in his final 18 holes.

Blake’s performance could be considered redemption after nabbing a tough second-place finish in his most recent Champions Tour event, the Principal Charity Classic. Blake shot two rounds in the 60s to close out the tournament, falling short of winner Russ Cochran by one stroke. He bogeyed the par-3 17th and missed a birdie putt to force a playoff on the par-4 18th.

With Monday’s victory, Blake will have qualified for 13 U.S. Opens in his career. His best finish in the U.S. Open was in 1992, when he finished in a tie for sixth at Pebble Beach.

• • •

2. PLAYOFF PUSH: Mackenzie Hughes topped Travis Johns in a playoff, taking the second and final qualifying spot from the St. Louis sectional.

Hughes and Johns found themselves in a tie for second at even par after 36 holes, trailing leader Jay Don Blake by three strokes.

Johns headed into the playoff with the hot hand after playing his final eight holes without a bogey, but it was not enough to hold off Hughes.

• • •

3. TITLE-GAME TURNAROUND: Illinois men’s golf coach Mike Small started his day off at 2-under through six holes, holding for the lead for a brief period.

But the events of the past week might have caught up with him, as he managed to record bogey or worse during six of the next 11 holes, including a double on the par-5 16th. He finished 22 holes on the day before withdrawing.

Said Small via Twitter: “Hit the proverbial "wall" today. Never felt so distorted mentally and whipped physically. The last 3 months been worth it though! ‪#crashed”

Small is fresh off of a national-title bid with his Illinois team. The Fighting Illini lost in the championship final to Alabama on Sunday, giving Small a short turnaround to play in St. Louis on Monday.

Small played against familiar faces in St. Louis. Illinois sophomore Alex Burge, who finished at 8-over, and former player Zach Barolow, who finished at 7-over.

• • •

4. TRADING PLACES: Andrew Dahl and Brant Peaper ended the day in a tie for sixth place and four spots away from qualifying for the 2013 U.S. Open, but their days could not have been more different.

Peaper, a senior at Indiana University, and Dahl, who originates from Salinas, Calif., both shot the second-lowest round of the day, a 2-under 69, but in reverse order. Peaper, who finished as the lowest-scoring amateur in St. Louis, started his day with the hot hand and Dahl finished his day with the score.

Both golfers also shot a 5-over 76 in the remaining 18 holes, placing the pair in a tie for sixth with 145 total strokes.

Only Blake shot a lower 18-hole score when he carded a 3-under 68 in his second round.

• • •

5. 33RD TIME’S A CHARM: Don Berry entered the sectional qualifying with hopes of earning a U.S. Open bid with some experience. He’s entered qualifying 33 times.

A trip to Merion wasn’t in the cards for the member of the Minnesota Golf Hall of Fame. Berry shot two rounds of 75, finishing in a tie for 15th.

Berry, is the brother-in-law 2003 U.S. Women’s Open champ Hilary Lunke, who qualified for the U.S. Open in 1992.

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