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Two 13-year-olds in the hunt The International Junior Masters field is younger than ever

Now that we have 14 year olds qualifying for the U.S. Open, perhaps it's only logical that the International Junior Masters did away with an unwritten rule this year and invited a pair of 13 year olds into the field.

There will be no regrets.

Both Marc Holzhauer and Jake Milanowski — the first players under 14 in tournament history — positioned themselves for a shot at the championship flight on a Tuesday when gusting winds blustered through the pines and hardwoods at East Aurora Country Club.

Holzhauer, from Clarence Center and Westwood Country Club, begins today inside the 32-player championship cut after shooting an 8-over 79. Milanowski, an Atlanta resident with family ties to Salamanca, is tied for 38th following an 82 that included five three-putts on greens rolling at the speed of light.

The round of the day came from North Tonawanda's James Blackwell, the reigning New York State Junior Amateur champion who lost in match play here last year to eventual champion Rhyne McLeod Jones of Blowing Rock, N.C. Blackwell bounced back from Monday's heartbreak in the Porter Cup Qualifier and a bogey-par-bogey start to fire a 2-under 69. He's one stroke ahead of Luis Medina of Mexico heading into this morning's final round of medal play. The top 32 finishers move into the championship bracket and commence match play in the afternoon.

Blackwell missed qualifying for the Porter Cup at Niagara Falls Country Club by a stroke with a 71 after three-putting three of the last four greens.

A new graduate of St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute who will play at Ball State, Blackwell has the strength and maturity to capture an IJM title this time around. For Holzhauer and Milanowski, this is but a first step in that direction.

"It makes you a strong and a better player when you play with older kids," said Jake's father, Jim Milanowski. "He plays with a lot of good (older) golfers, but not in tournament play. It's different when you're standing on the first tee and everything counts and you're playing with guys that hit it 30 (yards) past you and you're used to hitting it 30 past the people you're playing with. It changes your mindset. We dropped him in the ocean and told him to swim home."

"The first nine holes shook him up a little bit. He struggled. Three-putted a few times. But he hung in there. I think tomorrow will be a different day now that he knows he can hang with these kids."

"It was kind of tough because I was the youngest there and I didn't play great but I still grinded," Jake said. "I'm sort of like the underdog so there's really no pressure."

Holzhauer finished a stroke shy of making the field in the tournament qualifier but impressed the selection committee with his game and drew an invite as an alternate. His first hole in IJM competition went like this: A drive to the fairway 40 yards behind his playing partners, a 4-wood to the front of the green and an uphill 35-footer that rattled home off the back of the cup. Who could begrudge him the robust fist pump that punctuated such an auspicious start?

Holzhauer called before the qualifier, said he was good enough to make the field and asked if he could give it a shot. He got the green light.

It didn't hurt that he finished runner-up in an International Junior Golf Tour event in Tampa over the winter after forcing a playoff with a back-nine 34.

"And then I got here and saw tons of people that were a lot taller and I realized that only five make it, then I thought I really couldn't make it anymore," he said. "I shot 81 and the qualifying score was 80."

Holzhauer owns an outgoing personality that's surely been influenced by a lifetime of travel and a need to make new friends.

He was born in Germany and has lived in South Carolina, Kentucky and Ohio. His father, Dr. Markus Holzhauer, is a radiologist.

Marc's goal here?

"To play well," he said.

Sounds like a plan.