Pan parlays Northeast into major prep; Jolly leads

Cheng-Tsung Pan, who will play in next month's Open Championship, shot 5-over 74 Friday at the Northeast Amateur.

RUMFORD, R.I. – For the third time in four summers, Cheng-Tsung Pan will deviate from the national amateur schedule that marquee names of his type partake.

He is, after all, a man of major opportunities.

“The most important thing for me is just being there,” Pan said of his upcoming berth in the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool on July 17-20 in Hoylake, England. “It’s fun. I want to play in majors (when he turns professional), so it gives me an idea as to what’s going on, what the courses are like, how long they are.”

Heck, by the time his week is over at Hoylake, Pan will be a proverbial veteran at these things, because he already has played in two U.S. Opens: he missed the cut at Congressional in 2011 and finished T-45 at Merion last summer.

Not bad for a 22-year-old amateur.

Pan smiled when told there are PGA Tour members who’ve never played in that many majors. But he also knows that he has this going for him: He gets to warm up for the Open Championship at a cozy and friendly place such as Wannamoisett Country Club.

Yes, even after shooting 5-over 74 Friday to get through three rounds at 10-over 217 in the 53rd Northeast Amateur, Pan could smile. He’s nowhere near the lead, but the young man from Taiwan and the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. – a senior-to-be at Washington – still could embrace the nuances and genuine strength of this Donald Ross gem.

At 6,732 yards and with just one par 5, Wannamoisett poses one demanding challenge after another, many of them ending with devilish greens on which position is key.

“Just a great, great golf course," Todd White said. "I love it."

He won this championship in 1990 and can’t think of mid-June without a return visit. As a testament to the pleasure that the Northeast Amateur and Wannamoisett must bring, White also wore a smile despite a rough day (74–220, missed cut).

Truth be told, it figured to be a day to discuss how rough a third round it was – until Jordan Niebrugge and Stewart Jolly roared down the final holes, that is.

Niebrugge, having started the day five off of Jolly’s lead, wasted two early birdies with two bogeys, turned in level-par 34, then ripped off four birdies to shoot 31 on the back and post the tournament’s low score, 65. Momentarily, at least, the junior-to-be at Oklahoma State, seized the lead, but Jolly had his own fireworks at the finish.

Having absorbed two early bogeys, the senior-to-be at LSU ran off 12 consecutive pars, then birdied the par-5 17th and par-4 18th to shoot 69 and retain his lead. At 4-under 203, Jolly will start Saturday’s final round one clear of Niebrugge.

The next batch of competitors will need to make up some ground. Kurt Kitayama (69) is third at even-par 207, Seth Reeves (71) is at 2-over 209, and tied for fifth at 3-over 210 are Scottie Scheffler and Chelso Barrett, both of whom shot 70.

Ah, 70, such a brilliant score, if truth be told, so what’s Niebrugge doing with this 65 business?

“I just did a good job with some par saves,” he said, pointing specifically to the 13th and 15th holes when he converted putts from just inside of 10 feet. Toss in the 45-footer he made for birdie at the par-3 third and it made for a favorable experience. “I’ve just had three stress-free rounds,” he said. “I’ve hit a lot of greens.”

Perhaps the answer lies in the time of year, eh? After all, it was just about a year ago when Niebrugge caught fire – he won the Wisconsin State Match Play Championship, the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, the Wisconsin State Amateur Championship and the Western Amateur.

Whew! Exhausting stuff lifting all that hardware, yet Niebrugge had enough left to help the Americans win the Walker Cup in September.

Which isn’t to suggest he’s riding momentum from the summer of ’13. More likely, what put him in a relaxed mood for Friday’s third round was his playing competitor – fellow Wisconsinite Charlie Danielson. “Been friends since we were kids,” Niebrugge said, though they probably could have predicted that it would be a mixed bag on this day at Wannamoisett.

“Seems like every time we’re paired together, one of us plays well, one of us doesn’t,” Niebrugge said.

Last year, Niebrugge shot 4 over and just barely held on to win the State Amateur against Danielson’s closing 3 under, but it was a different story Friday at Wannamoisett. His 65 vaulted Niebrugge within one of the lead, while Danielson fell out of contention with a 75.

Pan? He’s even further back, though he’s even closer to the Open Championship. Beautiful thought.

But even better is this: He’s got one more day at Wannamoisett.

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