ROYAL OAK, Mich. (Tuesday, June 21) – Sean Maruyama started fast and ended strong, as the 16-year-old from Los Angeles grabbed the second round lead Wednesday at the 99th Western Junior Championship at Red Run Golf Club in Royal Oak, Michigan, in suburban Detroit.
Maruyama birdied his first two holes and finished with a 20-foot birdie putt on No. 18 to shoot a 6-under-par 66 for a two-day total of 7-under 137.
Six of his birdie putts were 10 feet or less. But a 35-foot birdie putt on the 378-yard par 4 No. 8 took him by surprise.
“It would have gone 20 feet past,” he said. “But it hit the hole … jumped straight up and went in.”
Maruyama will be a junior in the fall at Campbell Hall, a private school in Studio City, California. His most significant victory to date came at the 2015 Southern California Junior Amateur in Industry Hill.
A win in the Western Junior would be monumental for Maruyama, one of the youngest players in the field. He also would become the third Californian in four years to win the nation’s oldest national junior golf championship.
Another 16-year-old, Kaiwen Liu of San Diego, is alone in second after shooting a second straight 2-under 70 to place him three shots back at 140.
While Tuesday’s afternoon rounds were greatly affected by the wind, on Wednesday the greens turned a bit slower with the afternoon sun. Maruyama played his second round in the morning; Liu in the afternoon.
“My speed control was off on the front,” Liu said. “I had a lot of work to do to make par on a number of holes; four- and five-footers. My speed control was much better on the back.”
First round co-leader Trevor Brown of Austin, Texas, and David Laskin of Elk Grove, California, are tied for third, four shots back at 141. Brown shot even par on Wednesday. Laskin’s 2-under 70 was a stroke better than his opening round.
Brown is part of a four-player contingent from Westlake High in Austin. The other three are: Nick Costello, who will play at the University of Texas in the fall; Reese Ramsey, who will be a senior at Westlake; and Reid Davenport, 16, who will be a junior.
Davenport shot 69 and is one of four players at 142, five shots back. He made six birdies and three bogeys. His ended his front side with a string of three consecutive birdies at Nos. 16-18 to move to 2-under for the tournament. Another birdie at the 349-yard, par 4 No. 2 moved him to 3-under before he fell back with a bogey at the 593-yard, par 5 No. 5.
“The goal was to make the cut,” Davenport said. “I didn’t want to shoot myself out of it the first day. I get to go at it aggressively (on Thursday).
“It’s fun to play (in tournaments) with your high school buddies,” he added. “I play with Reese a lot. Sometimes we get lucky with the draw and get to play together.”
Ramsey comfortably made the cut with an even-par 144. Costello shot 151 and missed.
The cut was 5 over 149 and, of the 156 that started, 59 made the cut. Seventeen players made it on the cut line.
The final two rounds of the tournament will be played on Thursday, with the third round beginning at 7 a.m.
And just about anything can happen. Just ask James Piot, 17, of nearby Canton, Michigan. Piot was tied for the lead going into last year’s final round shot 5-over in the final round.
Piot played himself back onto the leaderboard to be in the hunt a second straight year. His 3-under 69 on Wednesday was one of the best rounds of the day. He sits at 2-under 142 in the four-way tie for fifth.
The strangest consecutive rounds of the event belong to Andrew Kozan of West Palm Beach, Fla. Kozan shot 14-over 86 on Tuesday then came back with the tournament’s best round, a 7-under 65.