Jay Hwang got hot early in the second round Tuesday at the AJGA’s Polo Golf Junior Classic to propel himself into match play, while several high-profile players are headed home early for the Thanksgiving.
Hwang, 17, made nine birdies – including four in a row to start the front nine – and shot a 5-under 66 at PGA National’s Champion Course in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Hwang, No. 9 in the Golfweek/Titleist Junior Rankings catapulted from T-40 into a tie for fourth at 3-under 140, easily punching his ticket into the 32-player match play portion of the event that starts Wednesday.
In July, he advanced to the finals of the U.S. Junior Amateur where he was defeated, 4 and 3, by Golfweek’s top-ranked junior Jordan Spieth.
Only four other boys shot under par Monday at the 7,147-yard Champion Course, just a day after 29 players put up red numbers at the 6,776-yard Haig Course.
Emiliano Grillo and Curtis Thompson posted 71s to claim co-medalist honors at 5-under 138. Thompson, No. 31 in the Golfweek/Titleist Junior Rankings, earned the top seed in match play because he finished his round before Grillo. Grillo, Golfweek’s fourth-ranked junior, earned a distinction of his own by winning medalist honors for the second year in a row.
Spieth, the Rolex Player of the Year, also advanced at 1-under 142.
In the girls’ division, Nicole Zhang earned medalist honors after shooting a bogey-free 6-under 66 on the Haig Course. Zhang, No. 21 in the Golfweek/Titleist Junior Rankings who is playing in her first Polo Junior, finished at 8-under 136. The 17-year-old from Calgary didn’t make a bogey on Tuesday (she made only one in the first round) and played the back nine in 4 under.
“The Haig Course has a lot less water and is less intimidating,” Zhang said. “My putter was really on today.”
Top-ranked Alexis Thompson made the biggest move up the girls’ leaderboard, shooting 67 to move from T-27 to solo third. Fifth-ranked Jessica Korda was alone in second at 5 under, while second-ranked Victoria Tanco tied for fourth and third-ranked Ani Gulugian tied for 15th.
While many of the top players found their rhythm, several big names did not. Jeffrey Kang, Golfweek’s second-ranked junior who will play for USC next fall, went 5 over on the back nine, finished with 76 and dropped from inside the top 20 to outside the cut line at 4-over 147.
Other top-25 players sent packing were James Back (No. 10), Shun Yat Hak (No. 12), Daniel Lee (No. 23) and Ian McConnell (No. 24).
Defending champ Patrick Winther failed to advance, too.
Some notable girls also shot themselves out of the tournament. Ninth-ranked Rachel Morris (79-78) was never in contention. Erynee Lee, No. 13 in the Golfweek/Titleist Junior Rankings, shot 80 on Day 1, 18th-ranked Lindsey Weaver couldn’t recover from an opening 78 and 24th-ranked Karen Chung shot 79 on Day 2.
Former U.S. Junior Amateur champion Cory Whitsett and eighth-ranked Patrick Rodgers advanced to match play via a playoff, as did 20th-ranked Yueer “Cindy” Feng in the girls’ division.
Whitsett is coming off a five-month layoff due to a back injury and is playing his first event since the Thunderbird International Junior in May. He used a push cart Monday and Tuesday.
First-round matches will begin Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. EST, while second-round matches will begin around 12:30 p.m. Girls will play their first-round matches on the Haig Course, while the boys will play on the Champion Course.
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First-round matches to watch:
- Jessica Korda (2) vs. Kristen Park (31)
- Alexis Thompson (3) vs. Cindy Feng (30)
- Stephanie Meadow (6) vs. Grace Na (27)
- Victoria Tanco (9) vs. Kyle Roig (24)
- Sarah Brown (11) vs. Jessica Vasilic (22)
- Alison Lee (16) vs. Ani Gulugian (17)
- Curtis Thompson (1) vs. Anton Arboleda (32)
- Emiliano Grillo (2) vs. Patrick Rodgers (31)
- Theodore Lederhausen (4) vs. Cory Whitsett (29)
- Jay Hwang (5) vs. Richard Werenski (28)
- Jordan Spieth (8) vs. Tanner Kesterson (25)
Note: Match play seed in parenthesis; AJGA contributed to this report