By Barry Cronin
ROLAND, ARK. (Friday, Aug. 2) –This is why gamblers bet the chalk.
What had seemed a mere inevitability became reality Friday when Patrick Rodgers converted his commanding third-round lead into a record-breaking victory to claim medalist honors at the 111th Western Amateur at The Alotian Club.
The Stanford junior from Avon, Ind. shot 3-under par 69, pushing his 72-hole total to 18-under 270. His fourth straight round in the 60s broke the championship’s record for lowest stroke-play total relative to par by two strokes. The previous record was set last year by medalist and champion Chris Williams, who shot 16-under at Exmoor Country Club in Illinois.
Rodgers thereby joins such multiple major champions as Phil Mickelson, Tom Watson, Ben Crenshaw and the great Bobby Jones as Western Amateur medalists.
And now, the tournament really begins.
On Saturday morning, Rodgers and 15 other players who became members of the Western’s prestigious Sweet 16 tradition commence match play – the one golf format that can get commentators carried away with boxing analogies. The tournament tees off at 8 a.m.
“Every single pin was in such a demanding place, and if you got out of position, you were going to struggle to make par,” said Rodgers, who opened with four birdies, an eagle and two bogeys on the front nine. “Even holes where I thought I left it in the right spot ended up being really demanding…It was an 18-hole grind out there, I’ll tell you what.”
It may have been a grind but Rodgers prevailed where other top-ranked players succumbed. No. 1-ranked Corey Whitsett lost in a five-man-for-four-spots playoff that determined 25 percent of the Sweet 16 field. Like Rodgers, Whitsett is a former Western Junior champion whom tournament officials dearly would love to have seen qualify for match play.
Surviving the sudden death playoff among the 5-under fivesome were:
· Beau Hossler, who contended famously in the 2012 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club shortly after graduating from high school. Ranked No. 84 coming into the event, Hossler parred the first playoff hole, No. 18.
· Talor Gooch, an Oklahoma State senior, who also parred the first playoff hole.
· Keith Mitchell, of Chattanooga, a junior at Georgia, who staked his approach shot to two feet on the second playoff hole, also No. 18, and tapped in for birdie.
· No. 17-ranked Sean Dale, a recent graduate of North Florida and winner of this year’s Jones Cup event, who parred the second playoff hole.
Carlos Ortiz of Guadalajara, Mexico matched Rodgers’ final round 67 to finish second at 15-under, three strokes behind the medalist.
Jordan Niebrugge, of Mequon, Wis., a sophomore at Oklahoma State, shot even par 72 to finish at 11-under. Niebrugge, who had hit 53 of 54 greens over his first three rounds, missed three greens but said he putted better after hiring a caddie from the club instead of carrying his own bag, as he’d done all week.
Kramer Hickock, a sophomore at Texas, who tied for sixth last week at the Porter Cup, tied for fourth at 11-under with 15-year-old David Snyder, the youngest player in the field.
Jonathan Garrick, a sophomore at UCLA, finished solo sixth at 8-under after a final round 70.
Six players were tied for seventh at 6-under, including 17-year-old phenom Robby Shelton IV, U.S. Open contestant Corey McElyea; Arkansas teammates Sebastian Cappelen of Denmark and Taylor Moore of Edmond, Okla., and lefty Seth Reeves, of Georgia Tech, who led the first two days.