Survive and advance.
That’s the mantra of match play.
Defending champion Will Thomson and East Amherst’s Ben Reichert are two of the players who did that Wednesday during the 63rd International Junior Masters at East Aurora Country Club.
“You make it to match play and you never know what can happen,” said Thomson, who was seeded third after 36 holes of stroke play finished up in the morning. “Stroke play, you’re more playing against yourself, whereas in match play you’re playing against your opponent.”
Thomson, the 14-year-old from Pittsford who plays out of famed Oak Hill Country Club, earned a 4-and-3 win over Mexico’s Federico Gutierrez in the round of 32.
“Anybody can win, so you can’t take anybody lightly,” Thomson said. “Your attitude has to be: Never quit on any match. I didn’t play my best, but got through. That’s all you need to do.”
A championship bracket of 32 golfers was formed following the second round of stroke play in the morning, with a total of 17-over 159 making it – a good indication of how tough the par-71, 6,400-yard layout can play when the wind blows as it did again Wednesday.
Surprisingly, there were only three seeded upsets in the round of 32 – the biggest being No. 29 Evan Santa of Edgewater, Md., taking out No. 4 Patrick DiPasquale of Pittsford, 2 and 1. No. 20 seed Evan Gaesser of Kendall beat No. 13 Nick Hofland of Ancaster, Ont., 5 and 4, and No. 18-seed Alejandro Santibanez of San Luis Potosi, Mexico, beat No. 15 Sam Meek of Peterborough, Ont., 1 up.
But one needed only to watch the match between stroke-play medalist MacKenzie Carter and No. 32 seed Diego Ovalle to realize how fickle the format can be.
Ovalle, a 17-year-old from Bogota, Colombia, was 4-up through 12 holes before Carter staged a furious rally. Pars at the 13th and 14th holes cut his deficit to two, then a birdie on the par-3 15th made it one.
After the players halved the par-5 16th hole with birdies, Carter squared the match with a par on the par-4 17th. That set up a terrific finish on the par-4 18th. Carter missed the green right, leaving a slippery downhill chip, while Ovalle found the green in two. His birdie attempt that could have won the match came up about 5 feet short, while Carter had about 12 feet for par.
The 18-year-old from Cobourg, Ont., who took medalist honors in stroke play by shooting consecutive rounds of 2-over 73, drilled that putt to put the pressure on Ovalle. When Ovalle’s par putt lipped out, Carter moved on to the round of 16.
“I stayed in a good frame of mind the whole round,” he said. “I just kept playing. That’s the difference between winning and losing today. I turned it around quickly and finished strong.
“Medalist doesn’t mean all that much to me right now. I’m just trying to win my next match.”
The longest match of the afternoon was contested between No. 11 seed Marc Watt of Scotland and No. 22 Matthew Vihant of Toronto. Watt prevailed in 20 holes with a par on the par-3 second hole.
Both players missed the green short, but Watt chipped to within 3 feet for his par putt, while Vihant had a 6-footer he couldn’t convert.
“It was sitting up and I just used my 52-degree and tried to hole it,” Watt said of his pitch shot. “It was a stressful match.”
If there is to be the first local winner since Jonathan Clark in 2010, it will be East Amherst’s Reichert. He’s in the round of 16 after a 3-and-2 win over Mexico’s Daniel Piceno in the round of 32.
“I didn’t play well this morning,” Reichert said. “Nothing seemed to go in, but I knew I was fine” to make the championship flight.
Reichert shared the lead after Tuesday’s first round of stroke play after a 2-over 73. He followed that with a 79 in the second round.
“I knew the cut was going to be high,” he said. “The pins were in tough positions. The wind was blowing again today. It was tough, but I mean, it was tough for everybody.”
The other two locals to make the championship flight lost in the round of 32. Williamsville’s Gregory Sibick, the No. 31 seed, was defeated, 4 and 3, by No. 2 Baker Stevenson of Hartland, Mich., while No. 25-seed Matthew Genaway of Darien Center lost to No. 8 Christian Cavaliere of Katonah, 1 up.
The 16 players who lost in match play Wednesday will form the consolation bracket. The remaining 46 players will be grouped into gold, silver and bronze flights based on stroke play scores. The round of 16 and quarterfinals will be held Thursday, with the semifinals and final in each bracket Friday.
Admission is free for those interested in attending.