BLOOMINGTON — Michael Mounce could only helplessly watch as Mike Henry sized up an 8-foot birdie putt for victory at No. 18 on Saturday at Bloomington Country Club.

"He made a couple huge putts for birdies and pars on the back nine," said Mounce. "I knew if he missed it, I would have a really good chance of making it and anything can happen on extra holes." 

When Henry's putt lipped out, Mounce pounced.

The 21-year-old sank his 6-foot birdie putt to force sudden death in a Bloomington-Normal City Match Play championship flight semifinal. When Henry made a bogey on the first extra hole, Mounce found himself in Sunday's 36-hole championship match like his twin brother, Branden, was last year.

Awaiting Michael Mounce at 8:12 a.m. Sunday in the 100th anniversary tournament will be Joe Bierbaum.

While Bierbaum saw more of BCC's trees than he cared to Saturday, he made a nifty up-and-down from behind No. 18 green for a par to knock off Jeff Wells, 1-up, in the other semifinal.

It will be the first final for Mounce, an El Paso-Gridley High School graduate who will be a senior on Bradley's golf team, and Bierbaum, 37.

"I better play like I did Friday (in beating defending champion Mike Cushing) if I want to see the second back nine," said Bierbaum, who was 7-over-par for Saturday's round.

Mounce had six birdies Saturday in his nip-and-tuck battle with Henry, the 2016 champion. Neither player enjoyed more than a 1-up advantage.

Henry drained a 25-foot birdie putt to go 1-up on No. 12. Mounce followed with two straight birdies to take a 1-up lead for the first time since winning No. 1 with a birdie.

But Mounce bogeyed Nos. 15 and 16 as Henry regained the lead. Henry then had his first chance to close out the match, but missed a 10-foot birdie putt at the 17th.

One of the best putters in town, Henry let Mounce off the hook again at the 18th.

"I hit it exactly right where I wanted, but I didn't hit it hard enough to hold its line and got the nasty lip out," said Henry, 49. "I thought Michael would make that. He was really good inside 10 feet today and that one looked pretty straight."

They headed back to No. 1 tee and Henry's poor drive forced him to play a low approach shot that went over the green. He chipped to 10 feet and missed the par putt as Mounce two-putted from 20 feet for his second 19-hole win of the week.

Mounce planned for an afternoon session on the range to figure out how to fix his balky driver.

"I was trying to hit a cut and then I was hooking it," he said. "That's not a good combination on a couple holes, but I got away with it."

While Mounce has used 3-wood off many holes this week, Bierbaum's strategy is simply take out his pink-shafted driver and let the ball fly where it may.

"Oh, yeah," he said. "I can miss any of (the fairways) the same. I have more confidence in driver than anything else."

Bierbaum fell 2-down after three. He was in danger of going 3-down after hitting his drive into a fairway bunker on No. 5 and being forced to blast out short of the green.

However, Wells knocked his approach shot from the middle of the fairway over the green. His chip shot went 30 feet past and he 3-putted for double bogey, allowing Bierbaum to win the hole with a bogey.

Bierbaum won two more holes with pars before the first birdie of the match, a 5-footer down the hill at No. 11, gave Bierbaum a 2-up advantage.

However, Wells got back to all square when Bierbaum 3-putted No. 12 for bogey and bladed a bunker shot for double bogey on the 16th. Wells made a crucial 6-foot par putt on No. 17 to set up the decisive 18th.

Bierbaum pulled his drive left and hit his second shot high over the trees just off the back of the green, 20 feet away from the pin. Wells was in the middle of the fairway before hitting just past Bierbaum's ball.

"You can't make that mistake," said Wells, 50. "Maybe it's overconfident or being too hyped up."

Wells hit a delicate chip that wouldn't stop until it settled 12 feet past the pin. Bierbaum used his putter from deep grass and watched it slowly creep along until it stopped inches away.

"It was an impossible chip," said Bierbaum. "He didn't hit a bad chip and had 12 feet. I barely tried to get it on the green and it worked. I was just trying to make par."

Wells couldn't make his putt to force sudden death as his hopes for a third final, and first since 1999, vanished. Wells was rock solid in ousting Alan Bardwell during Friday's quarterfinals.

"I felt really good after yesterday and today was really different feelings. That's golf," said Wells. "Joe put some pressure on me. He hits it in spots you think you have the advantage, and he has the advantage because he's good at scrambling or hitting shots you don't think people can hit."

Bierbaum thought the course played the toughest it had all week on Saturday as the greens regained their usual speed.

"The greens are a lot faster and changes it up a little bit, and neither one of us played great," he said. "We struggled our way through it. We both had a few good holes. I just got lucky to be 1-up at the end."

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



Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

Load comments