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TWO BEST WED
Ryan Doubet, left, looks on after partner Nate Perry, right, hits the ball up onto the 17th hole during the Two-Man Best Position match Wednesday afternoon, July 15, 2009, at Ironwood Golf Course in Normal.(THE PANTAGRAPH/B MOSHER)

NORMAL - Alan Bardwell didn't know Will Cullen really well before the Bloomington-Normal Two-Man Best Position Tournament.

That has quickly changed.

Bardwell and Cullen are spending a lot of time together this week at Ironwood Golf Course - with more to come.

The first-time partners enjoyed a torrid stretch in a second-round championship flight match Wednesday. Bardwell and Cullen went 10-under-par in a nine-hole span to oust Jordan Carpenter and Dustin Wickenhauser, 2 and 1.

"We made a lot of putts," said Bardwell. "I told Will I'm glad to know we can turn it on."

It was an extremely busy day in the championship flight with six other second-round matches played. In fact, there will be no matches today ahead of Friday's quarterfinals.

Defending champions Kyle English and Drew Miller beat 2000 winners Tyler Weaver and Dylan Schaefer, 4 and 3. Six-time champions Elston and Todd Mitchell cruised to a 3 and 2 victory over Matt Ryba and Sean Dozier.

Tom Kearfott and Mike Cushing roared past brothers Ben and David Marquardt, 6 and 5, while Kyle Bragg and Dusty Koth eliminated Adam Havens and Josh Wheeler, 4 and 3.

Ryan Doubet and Nate Perry rallied on the back nine to edge Dave Shulman and Dan Freed, 1-up. Jeff Bartel and Jason Alexander rolled in some long putts in stopping 1998 champions Rick Percy and Jeff Niepagen, 4 and 3.

Bardwell first played with Cullen in last year's Medal Play Tournament. They see each other often while practicing at The Links at Ireland Grove. After playing in last week's Illinois State Amateur qualifying at Crestwicke Country Club, in which both qualified, Bardwell asked Cullen if he had a partner.

Cullen, a 20-year-old junior on the ISU golf team, said no. A new partnership was born.

"Will is a really good golfer. He hit some really good shots in there for us," said Bardwell, 29. "This is kind of my year I'm starting to play golf again. I don't have time to play every day, but I hit balls every day."

Carpenter and Wickenhauser jumped to a 2-up lead after six holes. It looked to be a 3-up advantage when they hit their second shot 2 feet away on the par-5 seventh, but Bardwell rolled in a downhill 25-footer for a much-needed halve.

Cullen stuck his tee shot on the 184-yard eighth within 8 feet. He sank the putt, and the match went even on No. 9 when Bardwell drained a 25-footer.

"We were hitting it to 30 feet on (most of) the front nine," said Cullen. "We were getting weird putts. Finally we got some putts that were going a ball to the left or a ball to the right."

The putts kept right on falling. Cullen's 15-footer on No. 15 gave them a 2-up lead. Both teams made bogey on the par-3 16th. When Carpenter and Wickenhauser couldn't convert a 6-foot birdie attempt on No. 17, the match was over.

Bardwell and Cullen know the next challenge will be their most difficult. They will face Miller and English, who were 8-under for 15 holes. A practice session with his brother, Matt, helped Miller with his ball striking.

"He fixed my impact position. He's a pretty good teacher. He got me more square," said Miller. "I still have a little work to do on the driver, but everything else feels good. I don't have to hit many drivers (anyway). If I could play Kyle's drive all the time, I would be a lot better golfer."

The Mitchells improved their all-time record to 41-3 by going 10-under for 16 holes. Starting at No. 6, they birdied eight of nine holes to take command and set up a quarterfinal match against Bartel and Alexander.

"We didn't putt that well, but we actually hit our irons pretty well," said Todd Mitchell. "Obviously you want to be playing your best golf by the end (of the tournament). What we've done so far shows we're on the right track."

Doubet and Perry were 1-down after No. 11. Doubet sank a 10-foot birdie putt at No. 12, while Perry's tight approach on No. 15 set up a 2-foot birdie to go ahead and send them to the quarterfinals against Jeff and Brandon Holtz.

"Just swing hard as you can and go find it," said Perry of his team's loose and carefree attitude. "I let Doubet try to hit it near the hole so we can take his drive."

Alexander sank a 50-foot birdie putt on No. 6 before making a 40-footer for eagle on the next hole to gain a 2-up lead. Percy and Niepagen never recovered.

"I don't think that totally deflated them, but I think they were starting to get mad at us," said Bartel. His team shot 7-under for 15 holes.

A quarterfinal showdown looms between Kearfott-Cushing and Bragg-Koth.

Cushing's fine wedge play helped him and Kearfott go 9-under for 13 holes. Bragg and Koth, last year's runner-up, were 1-down after eight before running off seven straight birdies to pull away from Havens and Wheeler.

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