__UNIVERSITY PLACE, WASH.--__Say what you will about Chambers Bay GL. The links-style course hard by Puget Sound has sorted through the original 312 players in the field at the U.S. Amateur and impressively brought together the two top golfers from the summer of 2010 as the finalists in Sunday's 36-hole championship match.
With__David Chung__, a 20-year-old Stanford junior set to face Oklahoma State junior__Peter Uihlein__, who celebrates his 21st birthday tomorrow, the USGA has its best final-round showdown in its oldest event since__Ricky Barnes__ and Hunter Mahan squared off in 2002.
Chung's marvelous summer run continued when the winner of the Porter Cup and Western Amateur somehow outlasted defending champion Byeong-Hun An, 1 up, in their Saturday semifinal match.
It looked like Chung might have met his match when An got off to the best start of any player this week, making four birdies and an eagle over the first six holes to take a 3-up advantage.
"It was fun for me to watch him play," admitted Chung. "It's not like I was 'Oh man, I can't believe he's doing so well. I'm going to lose.' It was actually more fun to see somebody playing so well."
Still, Chung made three birdies in that same stretch and knew he needed to stay focused on his own game and let things play out. It was a lesson the Fayetteville, N.C., native says he learned in the final round of the Porter Cup in July, when after starting in a tie for the lead he wound up five shots back after just three holes but hung around to eventually claim the title.
So it was that Chung stayed patient even when he was 3 down at the turn, slowly chipping away at An's lead with birdies on the 10th and 12th holes. Chung then made crucial up-and-downs par saves on the 13th and 14th to halve the holes, the latter coming after he played an all-world flop shot from 15 yards right of the green to 2 1/2 feet from the hole.
"I'm always messing around on the practice facility, throwing it up as high as I can," Chung said. "I don't think I could have hit that shot again in 20 shots."
When An hit his tee shot on the par-3 15th over the green, leading to a bogey, the match returned to all square for the first time since the first hole. Chung then took his first lead of the day with an eight-foot birdie on the 16th hole.
Give credit to An, though, who wouldn't end his title defense without a fight. On the par-3 17th hole, when Chung hit his tee shot into the right bunker, An made a two-putt par to force the match to all square heading to the home hole.
With both golfers in the fairway off the tee on the par 4, An's second shot was from a downhill lie. Using a 5-iron, he came out of the shot, the ball landing short left in the greenside bunker. Chung hit his second on the green but 40 feet away. His job became easier, however, when An blasted his third shot over the green, on a similar line to Chung's. An then putted his par putt off the green, allowing Chung to lag his birdie try to few feet. When An missed his bogey try, he conceded Chung's putt for the match.
"I'm more disappointed because I was playing well, but just couldn't get it done in the last few holes, especially the back nine," said An, who now heads down the coast to start his college career at California. "I just missed a lot of chances."
As for Uihlein, he too needed time to get his barrings in his semifinal match versus incoming UCLA freshman Patrick Cantlay. While winning the first hole with a par, Uihlein had to hole par putts of 12 feet, 20 feet, six feet and 15 feet on Nos. 2-5 merely to halve each hole.
"Peter played well and made a ton of putts at the beginning and really never made any mistakes," Cantlay said.
A par on the 11th hole gave Uihlein a 2-up advantage, and pars on the 14th and 15th allowed him to close out Cantlay, 4 and 3.
Uihlein has enjoyed the times he's come to the Pacific Northwest in the past year. He won the Ping/Golfweek Invitational at Gold Mountain GC in nearby Bremerton last fall and then took the Sahalee Players title by seven strokes down the road at The Home Course in July. While attending that event, Uihlein snuck in two rounds at Chambers Bay to get a glimpse of what he was in store for.
"I have a good relationship with David," Uihlein said regarding his final-match opponent. "I think tomorrow will be a lot of fun."
Indeed, the finalists are quite familiar with each other, having first played in the same tournament together when they were 10 years old. Three times they have competed against each other in match play, splitting matches at the U.S. Junior and the AJGA Polo match play. Last June, Chung took a 2-1 advantage when he defeated Uihlein, 1 up, at the NCAA Championship as part of Oklahoma State and Stanford facing off in the quarterfinals.
"I know [Peter's] a great putter," Chung said. "He hits it far, really has no weaknesses. But after the match I had with Ben, I think I'm pretty prepared for anything."