NORMAL - Teenagers William Cullen and Kyle English don't have much match play experience on their resumes. They're taking care of that this week in the Bloomington-Normal Match Play Tournament. Photo gallery
Cullen, who turned 18 on Thursday, failed to get flustered Friday when he fell 2-down after four holes against Josh Wheeler. Cullen played solid from tee to green in ousting two-time winner Wheeler, 3 and 2, in a championship flight quarterfinal match.
"I wasn't panicking," said Cullen, who was 3-under-par for 16 holes. "I knew if I started putting well I would be fine because I was hitting the ball well."
English, 16, built a 3-up lead after seven holes against veteran Chuck Pinkard and survived some missed short putts to also earn a 3 and 2 quarterfinal victory.
"I'm trying to make birdies and not worry what he (the opponent) is doing," said English. "On the course, I don't pay attention to him. I'm just trying to play like stroke play."
Cullen and English helped University High School win its fourth straight state championship last fall. They take the plunge into the big leagues today.
Pretournament favorites Todd Mitchell and Matt Miller had some nervous moments in their Friday morning matches before advancing into today's semifinals.
Mitchell, the two-time defending champion, was even with three holes left against Eric Lutz before sneaking out a 1-up victory. Miller bogeyed three straight holes and nearly squandered a 4-up lead, but birdied his last two holes to oust qualifying medalist Seth Doran, 3 and 2.
"I think I lost my focus," said Miller, a recent Illinois State graduate who was the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year this spring. "I definitely can't let that happen again."
Mitchell, a two-time Illinois State Amateur champion, meets Cullen in this morning's first semifinal at 7:40, followed by Miller against English at 7:50. The winners square off in Sunday's 36-hole finale.
For the second straight day, Mitchell was pushed to the limit. After two straight birdies gave him a 2-up lead after 11, Lutz sank a short birdie putt on No. 12 and a Mitchell bogey on the par-3 13th squared the match.
Lutz left an 8-foot par putt on No. 16 a roll short and fell 1-down. Mitchell hit the par-5 17th in two, but Lutz sank an 8-foot birdie putt for a halve to stay alive. Lutz's drive on No. 18 went into a pine tree to the right of the green. When he couldn't hack the ball out left-handed and Mitchell cozied a pitch up 6 feet away, Lutz conceded.
"I just need to feel comfortable over my putts," said Mitchell, who was 2-under. "For some reason today, I was never comfortable or confident and it reflected how I putted. I probably missed four or five putts inside 8 feet."
Miller and Doran played in the same foursome with Mitchell and Lutz. Miller's third birdie of the round at No. 6 gave him a 4-up cushion. But starting on the par-3 eighth, Miller started to struggle and two 3-putts shaved his lead to 1-up.
Doran missed a chance to draw even when he couldn't sink a 6-foot birdie putt on No. 11. Miller then steadied himself and made birdie putts of 12 and 10 feet on Nos. 15-16 to close the match.
"I had to get my concentration back," said Miller, who was 2-under. "Seth hung in there. He's a very steady player and made pars on all those holes I bogeyed. He took advantage and did not just give me the match."
Wheeler, who was battling an upset stomach, grabbed a 2-up advantage with birdies Nos. 3 and 4. Cullen, an ISU recruit, got those back with short birdie putts on the sixth and seventh and took a 2-up lead by winning Nos. 10 and 12 with pars.
"I hit the ball really, really well today, opposite of yesterday," said Cullen, who beat four-time champion Tom Kearfott in 19 holes Thursday. "Today I was more aggressive. Instead of hitting one less club and swinging easier, I took the club that was right if I hit it good and solid."
English and Pinkard, the 1986 U.S. Mid-Amateur runner-up, both bogeyed Nos. 9 and 10. English missed a short birdie putt on the 11th and another for par on No. 12, trimming his lead to 2-up.
But Pinkard bogeyed No. 14. English closed the match with pars on the next two holes and started to focus on facing Miller today.
"It's something I've been looking forward to, playing someone who can give me a really good challenge," said English. "He's playing really well. It's going to be tough to beat him."
Championship flight semifinals
7:40 a.m. - Todd Mitchell vs. William Cullen
7:50 a.m. - Matt Miller vs. Kyle English
First flight finals
8 a.m. - David Good vs. Ryan Doubet
Second flight finals
8:10 a.m. - John Musial vs. Ben Kilborn
Third flight finals
8:10 a.m. - Bo Sparks vs. Tim Reedy