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Wittenberg Gets Schooled at U.S. Amateur

August 21, 2003

OAKMONT, Pa. (AP) _ Casey Wittenberg is supposed to be attending classes at Oklahoma State this week. Instead, he’s being schooled in the ways of mastering one of the world’s toughest courses.

So far, Wittenberg has adeptly sidestepped the numerous trouble spots at Oakmont Country Club that can undo the best of golfers to advance to Thursday’s round of 32 in the U.S. Amateur.

His first lesson learned: those who play for birdies on greens so fast that putts sometimes start rolling by themselves are doomed to defeat.

``The good thing about Oakmont is that pars are good and everybody’s going to make bogeys, and very few birdies,″ said the 18-year-old Wittenberg, one of eight U.S. amateurs previously selected to the Walker Cup team.

Wittenberg, the top-ranked U.S. amateur, beat Bill Drohen of Haverhill, Mass., 5 and 3 as match play began Wednesday with a few close calls but only a couple of upsets.

Wittenberg is from Memphis _ yes, the hometown of Shaun Micheel, the surprise winner of last week’s PGA Championship. Winning at Oakmont wouldn’t be an upset at all for Wittenberg, but he hopes Micheel’s title is a good omen.

``He’s a great friend and a great player,″ said Wittenberg, the Southern Amateur champion. ``He’s a great influence on everybody in Memphis and a great influence on me as far as being able to practice and work with him.″

Wittenberg also works out regularly with another PGA Championship winner, David Toms.

``It’s just incredible for me to be around these people,″ Wittenberg said.

He feels the same way about the 32 still competing for U.S. amateur golf’s biggest prize _ a field that will be cut to the eight quarterfinalists during morning and afternoon rounds Thursday.

Another of the favorites, Trip Kuehne, expected all along to get to Thursday, and didn’t change his mind even when Ty Harris of Georgia State led him during most of the front nine. Kuehne rallied to win 2-up.

``If I were Ty Harris, I’d probably have a good cry because you don’t see many amateurs shoot under par at Oakmont and lose. He played phenomenally,″ Kuehne said. ``But it’s been a long time since I’ve been in a position where I wanted the ball when the game was on the line, and I drew from some past experiences.″

At 31, Kuehne is far older than the mostly college age kids still in contention. He was the runner-up to Tiger Woods in 1994, when Wittenberg was only 9.

Camilo Villegas’ rally was even more dramatic _ and more frantic _ than Kuehne’s. Down by three holes through No. 13, the University of Florida star won the final five holes to beat Terrence Miskell of New Braunfels, Texas, 2-up. Villegas’ comeback started with an eagle 3 at the 621-yard 12th.

Ryan Moore, a U.S. Walker Cup team member and another pre-tournament favorite, wasn’t as fortunate, losing 1-up to Auburn University’s Lee Williams.

In a match between top contenders for the remaining two spots on the Walker Cup team, Clemson star Gregg Jones beat Vanderbilt’s Brandt Snedeker 4 and 3. Snedeker is the U.S. Amateur Public Links champion.

Tom Glissmeyer, a 16-year-old high school junior from Colorado Springs, Colo., and the youngest player left in the field, had no problems in beating Randy Nichols of Connersville, Ind., 6 and 5.

Billy Haas, the son of PGA Tour player Jay Haas, had one of the shortest matches, beating Jessie Mudd of Louisville 7 and 5. Another Walker Cup team member, Brock Mackenzie of Yakima, Wash., beat Mark Christensen of Elk River, Minn., 6 and 5.

John Holmes, a University of Kentucky star who was the top qualifier, won 6 and 4 over Rick Reinsberg of Lafayette, Calif.

Unlike qualifying round play earlier in the week, no one managed to sink a par putt Wednesday without striking the ball. Matt Johnston’s 3-foot downhill putt took off by itself and rolled in unaided on No. 2 during stroke play, but it wasn’t enough to advance him to match play.