August 18, 2012
CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. - Michael Weaver continued his inspiring run at the 112th U.S. Amateur on Saturday with a 3 & 2 victory over Justin Thomas to earn a spot in the event's 36-hole championship match Sunday. Weaver will tee off at 7:30 a.m. CT against Steven Fox, who scored a 2 up win over Brandon Hagy to prevent the finals being an all Cal affair. NBC will televise two hours of action from Sunday's championship match (1-3 p.m. PT).
"I didn't quite expect this," Weaver said. "I hoped that I would be here, but I by no means expected that I would be playing on Sunday. But I just worked really hard at home, worked on my putting, worked on everything. I just wanted to make sure that I did everything I could to be ready for this event."
"I putted great today and stayed very focused," Weaver added. "I knew that a win would get me into The Masters and U.S. Open but was able to block that out mostly all day and get it done."
Weaver jumped on Thomas, the 2011-12 Jack Nicklaus Award winner from Alabama, early and often by winning five of the first 10 holes to go 5 up with eight holes remaining. Weaver took four of the five holes he won with birdies on the par-four first and second, the par-three eighth and the par-four 10th. He added another hole when Thomas bogeyed the par-four fourth. Weaver gave two of the holes back with his only two bogeys of the day on the par-three 12th and par-four 14th. Thomas cut Weaver's margin to two holes with three to play when he birdied the par-three 15th, but Weaver ended Thomas' comeback by making his sixth birdie of the round on the par-four 16th to clinch the match.
"The front nine was key," Weaver said. "Justin started to come back, but I hung tough."
"Even though Justin closed in on him, Michael really, really kept his head," head coach Steve Desimone said. "He hit two great shots on 16. His birdie putt was in two or three feet from the hole."
Hagy's match against Fox was tight the entire way with the final two hole margin of victory the only time either player led by more than one. The players split the first four holes before a birdie by Fox on the par-five fifth gave him his first lead. But Hagy would birdie the par-three sixth to even the match again and took his first lead when Fox bogeyed the par-four ninth. Hagy held on to his slim advantage until his bogey on the 14th allowed Fox to square up the match again and another Hagy bogey on the 15th put Fox back in the lead. Both players made par on the next two holes but Fox claimed victory with a birdie on the par-four 18th.
"What an incredible experience first of all," Hagy said. "I played well the whole week and today was no exception. I missed a few shots out there, but I'm proud of the way I played."
Weaver is third Cal player to advance to finals of the U.S. Amateur. Robert Hamilton was a runner-up in 2001, while Ben An won the event in 2009 prior to signing at Cal, where he played one season in 2010-11 before turning professional. Weaver is in match play action at the event for the first time in his career.
Weaver's road to the championship match included plenty of drama, especially on Wednesday and Thursday.
Weaver's final stroke play score (73-70 - 143, +2) made him one of 17 golfers tying for the final 14 match play spots in a Wednesday morning playoff, where he qualified for match play with a birdie on the third hole and then later in the day picked up a 2 & 1 victory over Zac Blair.
He then had a pair of dramatic comeback wins on Thursday over Stanford's Patrick Rodgers and North Carolina State's Albin Choi. Weaver trailed by three holes with six to play against Rodgers in the Round of 32 before winning five of the final six holes in a 2 up victory. In the Round of 16 against Choi, he trailed by two holes with two to go but got into a playoff after he birdied 17 and Choi bogeyed 18. Weaver won with a birdie on the first playoff hole that also marked his only lead of the entire match.
Cal had five players in the 112th U.S. Amateur with Max Homa, Michael Kim and Walker Huddy also participating. Homa was eliminated by Thomas in the Round of 16, while Kim made it to the Round of 64 before being defeated by Bobby Leopold. Huddy was one stroke shy of getting into same playoff Weaver was in to possibly earn a spot in match play.
"One out of two is a little bittersweet," Desimone said. "It's great to have one in, would have loved to have had two. We're playing tomorrow with a chance to have a U.S. Amateur champion in the program and it's not very often we've been able to say that in the past. In fact, we have never had one. Robert [Hamilton] had graduated [when he made the final in 2000 at East Lake] and Ben An had verbally committed [when he won in 2009], but Michael is the first one to have been in school to actually get into this position."
"I have all the confidence in the world that Michael will take home the title tomorrow," Hagy added.
Cal players have had a tremendous amount of success in recent years at the U.S. Amateur, with more golfers than any other collegiate program in the nation participating in the event for the second time in three years in 2012. The Bears also had the most players in the event of any collegiate program in the country in 2010 when there was a school-record six.
"I'm really proud of the way the guys have played, not just Michael, but all five guys really competed and have made this quite a U.S. Amateur," Desimone said. "I'm obviously very proud and very pleased that we have had such success at the U.S. Amateur. "It's been a great week for the program."