NORMAL — When Michael Mounce played in the Joliet Amateur last weekend, he shot rounds of 66 and 78.

"I putted as well as I could the first round and in the second round my putter wasn't there," he said. "But it came back today."

The 21-year-old El Paso-Gridley High School graduate, who played in the NCAA Regional last month for Bradley, enjoyed a historic round on a historic day for the Bloomington-Normal Match Play Tournament at Weibring Golf Club at Illinois State.

Mounce set a tourney qualifying record with an 8-under-par 63 in perfect scoring conditions Saturday as the tournament kicked off its 100-year anniversary. He finished three strokes ahead of Grant Milling and heads to Bloomington Country Club for matches this week feeling good about his chances.

"I know the defense at BCC is the greens and I'm putting really well right now, so I feel like that is a good combination," said Mounce. "I need to tighten things up with my long game and we'll be good."

Mounce's score equaled the 63 that Joe Bierbaum fired in qualifying at Highland Park in 2013. However, Bierbaum's total was 7-under at par-70 Highland Park.

There were five under-par qualifying rounds among 75 competitors at a Weibring layout that was softened by a morning shower that caused a 1-hour, 40-minute delay. 

Jeff Wells and Alan Bardwell shot 69s. Mounce's twin brother, Branden, who was the runner-up last year, came in with a 70. 

Two-time defending champion Mike Cushing, who was exempt, played a practice round in 72. It took a 78 to make the 32-man championship flight as Brock Hirn earned the final spot with a birdie on the second playoff hole against Bryan Brucker and Callaway Clover.

The championship flight now heads to BCC for the first time since 1963 (see Scoreboard for pairings).

First-round matches will be played Sunday and Monday, while the second round must be completed by Tuesday. Quarterfinals will be Friday, with the semifinals next Saturday and the 36-hole title match set for June 17.

Michael Mounce got off to a quick start with birdies on Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 6. He added another at the eighth to make the turn at 5-under 31.

His longest birdie of the round came when he sank a 15-foot putt at the par-3 11th. Mounce, who will be a senior at Bradley in the fall, added a pair of birdies at Nos. 13 and 15.

"I definitely did not think about (the score) until after the 15th got me to 8 (under)," he said. "I thought it was possible to go low."

Mounce missed a 20-foot birdie putt at the 16th before having to get up-and-down for par at the 17th. He bombed a drive on No. 18, but didn't hit his approach close from 100 yards and two-putted for par.

The 63 equaled the course record from the white tees set by Will Cullen in 2006. The course played about 6,400 yards Saturday.

"My driver I definitely have to work on," said Mounce, who also was qualifying medalist at Weibring two years ago. "I have to figure out some things. It was not good today."

Milling had almost all parts of his game working. His only lapse came at No. 18 when his drive settled next to a tree and he took an unplayable lie, leading to his lone bogey.

"It was interesting playing this course today because I play it all the time, but I play it from the tournament tees which are about 7,100 yards," he said. "I just played real solid. I didn't make anything outside of 8 feet."

While Milling, 30, isn't a BCC member, he feels comfortable on the tree-lined layout. He clinched his 2016 Medal Play title with a final-round 71 at BCC and would love to add his first Match Play crown there.

"It's a great golf course and test and I think it will be awesome for match play," he said. "It was interesting reading about all the history of Bloomington-Normal golf (this week). It's pretty cool. Hopefully I'll have a nice, long week."

Other former Match Play champions who qualified for the championship flight include Mike Henry (72), Tom Kearfott and Brad Barker (each with 73) and Josh Wheeler (77).

Greg Wohlford paced the senior division with an even-par 72. Among those joining him will be former champions Joe Thompson (76) and Mike Milligan (82).

Contact Jim Benson at (309) 820-3404. Follow him on Twitter: @Pg_Benson



Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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