Williams survives, Spieth falls in Round 1

August 15, 2012


CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo.—To be successful at the U.S. Amateur, much less win the USGA's oldest championship, requires patience, perseverance and a little bit of luck. The latter is something Chris Williams and Jordan Spieth, the No. 1 and 3 ranked amateur golfers in the world, could have used more of entering Round 1 of match play at venerable Cherry Hills CC.

Williams, a senior at Washington, and Spieth, a sophomore at Texas, easily advanced through stroke-play qualifying Monday and Tuesday. Both played well enough in fact to set up a first-round tilts against one of the survivors of the 17-player-for-14-spot playoff Wednesday morning just to get into match play. Yet instead of greeting a golfer just happy to not be heading to the Denver International Airport on the first tee, the two U.S. Walker Cup team members got all they could handle.

Williams' opponent:Peter Williamson, winner of the North & South Amateur and the Southern Amateur this summer and the eighth-ranked amateur in the world.

Spieth's foe: Thomas Pieters, the reigning NCAA champion and a first-team All-American at Illinois.

By day's end, one "favorite" was moving on and one was going home. Williams defeated Williamson, 3 and 2, while Pieters ousted Spieth, 1 up.

"To be the best you've got to beat the best," Williams said afterward when asked about his difficult first-round draw. "That's just the way you've got to think out here. You've got to have to beat some tough opponents to win, so you've got to be prepared every match."

Williams took an early lead, winning the second and fourth holes with pars, and never looked back. Williamson, a 22-year-old from Hanover, N.H., who graduated from Dartmouth last spring, struggled with his putter. The inability to hole his birdie chances prevented him from putting much pressure on Williams.

"My short game had been something that had really carried me through this summer," WIlliamson said, "so it was disappointing that I just wasn't really able to get comfortable out there."

Case in point: Williamson was 2 down on the par-4 14th but faced an eight-foot par putt that would have won him the hole after Williams missed his par try. But Williamson's putt lipped out, and then Williams rolled in a 13-foot birdie putt on the par-3 15th to stretch his lead to 3 up and essentially end the match.

Trouble with his putter was also something Spieth had been dealing with for much of the summer. Still, the two-time U.S. Junior champion and quarterfinalist at the U.S. Amateur a year ago had capitalized on solid ball striking to earn low amateur honors at the U.S. Open and make the cut at the PGA Tour's John Deere Classic and the Tour's Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational

The highly anticipated match got off to an electric start when Spieth and Pieters tried driving the green on Cherry Hills' famed first hole. Both missed left, but Pieters holed his chip for a eagle that got him to a quick lead.

A par by Spieth on the second after Pieters three-putted the hole squared the match where it stay through No. 7. Pieters proceeded to win the eight and ninth holes with a par and birdie, respectively.

Spieth came to life when his 18-foot birdie putt fell into the sidedoor on the par-4 14th, cutting Pieters advantage to 1 up. Facing a four-footer, however, on the 17th to square the match, Spieth missed the crucial try. Same on 18, when his par putt that could have extended the match to extra holes burned the edge of the cup but wouldn't drop.

"It's the short putts that just kill me, as you can see," Spieth said. "I just have to go back to work now."

Pieters' victory was all that more impressive considering his late arrival to Colorado. The 20-year-old Belgium native played last week at the European Amateur in Ireland (where he finished T-22 after an opening-round 66), which ended Saturday. His flight to the U.S. didn't get him in to town at 9 p.m. Sunday night. Without benefit of a practice round at either Cherry Hills of CommonGround GC, the companion course for stroke play, Pieters was happy simply getting into the playoff for the chance at match play.

Seeing Spieth go down in defeat was something that other players in the field took notice of. "I saw that out on the board," said Bobby Wyatt, the medalist who won his opening-round match against Taylor Hancock, 4 and 2. "It's a testament to the talent of amateur golf right now. Anybody can get beat out here on any day."

It's just a matter of the (un)luck of the draw.

Some tidbits from the first round: