__PINEHURST, N.C.--__It's one of the U.S. Amateur's more entertaining yet little-known rituals: the annual playoff to determine who are the last few golfers advancing from the stroke-play qualifying field of 315 to the match-play field of 64. This year's version, however, we'll just call supersized as 24 players will vie for the two remaining spots, the cut at Pinehurst Resort falling at five-over 145.
So large is the number of golfers holding on by a thread at the chance still to claim the Havemayer Trophy--it's the second biggest group in tournament history, eclipsed only by 1988's 31--that it will require everyone to return to the No. 4 course Wednesday morning at 7:30 a.m. while the first round of match play gets underway on the fabled No. 2 course at 8 a.m.
Among those hoping to buck the playoff odds: local favorite Jack Fields, a native of Southern Pines;Drew Weaver, the 2007 British Amateur champion;Jack Newman, the 2008 U.S. Amateur Public Links winner; not to mention both__Danny Simmerman__ (of Nashville, Tenn.) and Danny Zimmerman (of Verona, Wis.).
(Blogger's note, 10:35 a.m., Weds.: Three of the 26 players--Newman, Ross Beal and Jason Bittick--made birdies on the first playoff hole to eliminate the rest of the field. Bittick parred the third extra hole to get the 63rd seed, while Newman and Beal made bogeys. On the fifth extra hole, the par-4 15th, Beal two-putted for par from four feet, after Newman had made a bogey, to get the final spot.)
Several high-profile players, meanwhile, don't have to sweat out the playoff. All four U.S. Walker Cup team members playing in the North Carolina pines--Rickie Fowler,Billy Horschel,Jamie Lovemark and Kyle Stanley--made it rather easily, as did 2005 U.S. Walker Cup veteran__Brian Harman__. Also advancing are Canada's__NIck Taylor__, T-2 at the NCAAs and a quarterfinalist at last year's U.S. Amateur;Derek Fathauer,Eddie Olson and Jhonattan Vegas, three other quarterfinalists from Olympic Club in 2007; and__Kevin Tway__, a U.S. Open qualifier.
Conversely, a few notable players are going home after just two days at Pinehurst.Mike Van Sickle, a senior at Marquette who had top-10 finishes at this summer's Northeast Amateur, Porter Cup and Southern Amateur, missed the playoff by one shot, as did Oklahoma State assistant coach__Alan Bratton__.Philip Mollica, who won the North & South Amateur here in 2007, missed by five shots. U.S. Open qualifiers Jordan Cox,Jeff Wilson and Michael Quagliano, as well as former USGA champions__Nathan Smith__ and __Austin Eaton__and reigning U.S. Junior champion Cameron Peck, will be leaving earlier than they hoped.
Looking for intriguing first-round showdowns Wednesday? Well there's plenty of them. The way the match-play bracket fell, here are just the first three matches of the day:
8 a.m.: Philip Francis vs. Kevin Tway (the 2006 U.S. Junior champion taking on the 2005 winner)
8:10 a.m.: Peter Uihlein vs. Trent Leon (incoming Oklahoma State freshman taking on the Cowboys' lone senior)
8:20 a.m.: Derek Fathauer vs. Jhonattan Vegas (a quarterfinalist in 2007 taking on a semifinalist)
Later in the morning, at 9:10 a.m., a pair of college All-Americans, Corey Nagy and Adam Mitchell, square off. At 10:10 a.m., Stanford standout__Sihwan Kim__ competes against Clemson's streaking Sam Saunders. Then at 11 a.m.,Kyle Stanley, a U.S. Walker Cupper, faces__Seung-su Han__, a UNLV All-American who is likely to turn pro at the end of this tournament.