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World-class field set for Junior Masters

One of the strongest fields ever begins play today in the 58th annual International Junior Masters golf tournament at East Aurora Country Club.

"Based on our competitors' handicaps this is one of the stronger fields ever," said tournament director Dave Smith. "These are very strong golfers. Only two golfers [have] over a 4 handicap."

Last year's champion, Zak Griffiths of Red Deer, Alberta, will return to defend his title. Participants in Monday's Ham-Am fundraiser claim the 17-year-old has added 30 more yards of distance from last summer. Ryan Simpson of Mechanicville, who won the consolation bracket last summer, is also part of a field that includes foreign golfers representing five different countries, as well as 15 players from Western New York.

The tournament begins today with the field of 80 playing 18 holes. The second round of stroke play will be played Wednesday morning. The low 32 will begin the championship bracket of match play Wednesday afternoon.

Second round and quarterfinal matches will be Thursday, with semifinals on Friday morning and the finals that afternoon.

The tournament, whch started in 1953, is the oldest international junior invitational in North America.

The selection committee aims to bring in the top junior golfers to create the highest level of competition. It has been successful, with qualifying scores for the championship flight decreasing every year. Ninety-five percent of the players in the field have handicaps of zero to four.

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Dantonio, 12, leads

It may be a first in the Buffalo District Golf Association -- a 12-year-old paired with the reigning player of the year in the leaders group.

That matchup will make for an interesting final round of the Women's Individual Championship at Springville Country Club today.

Chelsea Dantonio -- a 12-year-old who plays out of Fox Valley -- shot a 76 Monday in the first round of the two-day event. She tied with Kim Kaul, the 2009 BDGA Player of the Year, for the low score of the day. Dantonio and Kaul will tee off with Julie Murphy in the leaders group at 10:16 a.m.

"It was her first adult event, or as she called it her first real golf event," BDGA executive director Tom Sprague said of Dantonio. "She had a great first round in weather conditions that weren't great to start with. The other women paired with her said she was wonderful and a real joy."

Murphy shot a first-round 79 -- the only other player in the 70s on a rainy day.

Today's final round begins at 8 a.m.

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