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Top seeds have a tough go in P-P first round

Trevor Vandlac watches his approach shot to the first green during Thursday's match play. BRIAN BASHAM/SPOTLIGHT1 / 6
Pat Deitz watches his drive on the sixth hole Thursday. BRIAN BASHAM/SPOTLIGHT2 / 6
Teddy Cox, eyes his drive on the par five fifth hole during his Thursday match against defending champion Todd Hillier. Cox won the match 5 and 3 to advance in championship match play. BRIAN BASHAM/SPOTLIGHT3 / 6
Thomas Welk watches his tee shot on the par four seventh hole during match play Thursday. BRIAN BASHAM/SPOTLIGHT4 / 6
Thomas Welk watches his tee shot on the par four seventh hole during match play Thursday. BRIAN BASHAM/SPOTLIGHT5 / 6
Mitch Buboltz watches his tee shot on the par three eighth hole during his Thursday championship match against Beau Hanson. BRIAN BASHAM/SPOTLIGHT6 / 6

It was a day of reckoning for the Pine to Palm's top seeds in the first round of action Thursday, as three of the top four players fell by the wayside.

Not only did defending champion Todd Hillier end his quest for a repeat championship, No. 2 seed and medalist Erik Von Rooyen also lost in dramatic fashion.

The upsets were not done there, though, as No. 4 seed and first-day medalist Beau Hanson of Frazee couldn't make it out of the first round.

In other words, it was a good day to be a low seed.

Hillier fell earlier in the day to Hawley's Teddy Cox 5 and 3, but we'll get back to that match in a minute.

The best match of the day was the last one in and it ended in one of the best fashions the Pine to Palm Tournament has seen in quite sometime.

Medalist Erik Van Rooyen was playing some of the tournament's best golf, but Trevor Vandlac didn't let that affect his own play, instead sticking with the University of Minnesota junior the entire way.

That's when he played himself over the hump in the final two holes.

"It was pretty intense," a happy Vandlac said.

Vandlac sunk an improbable birdie putt on hole 18. The path Vandlac sent his ball on included a steep uphill climb from in front of the green, off the fringe and a steady line right into the cup.

All that from about 35 to 40 feet from the hole.

"I grew more confident as it got closer to the hole and I knew it was moving good enough for a chance to make it," said Vandlac, who is from Hayward, Wisc. And attends the University of Wisconsin -- Madison. "I knew I had a chance to make it, that's why I left the pin in."

But Van Rooyen wasn't going to conceded that easily.

His putt was a downhill bender from about 30 feet away and he made Vandlac's heart skip a beat by putting the ball right on course, before it lipped out and thus effectively ending the match.

"It was a back and forth match all day," Vandlac said. "He was a little longer player than I was, but I hit every drive and missed maybe one or two greens all day."

Vandlac came through under pressure just to send the match to the 18th hole, after falling down by a hole after Van Rooyen almost drove the 16th green.

On the par 3 17th, Van Rooyen's drive ended up in the right bunker, while Vandlac's plopped on the green.

After Van Rooyen made par, Vandlac sunk about a 14-foot putt to even the match.

"That was a tough downhill putt, so that was a big one, as well," Vandlac added.

This is Vandlac's first trip to the Pine to Palm, so each time he has played the course, the better he has felt.

"I'm feeling more comfortable with each round, I felt I really underachieved with my 150 qualifying score," he added.

Cox was just happy to being playing in the field of 64 Thursday, after surviving a nine-man playoff to claim the final slot in match play.

He birdied both holes to earn the right to play Hillier, who gained the exempt from qualifying and the automatic No. 1 seed.

But it was evident early, that Cox was not about to just be content on making the cut, by playing solid throughout the round and taking the win 5 and 3.

Last year, Hillier's putter was his weapon of choice. Today, not so much.

"As well as I was putting last year when I won the championship, it was the complete opposite today," Hillier said. "But Ted really played well, today."

Cox went 2-up after four holes, but Hillier evened it up with wins on five and six. The back nine was the deciding factor, though, as Cox made four birdies out of the first six holes.

Hillier also went out of bounds on 11 to really put himself in a hole, as Cox was accurate all day, since he had birdie putts on every green but three.

"My wedges from 100 yards in were very good, which set me up with short putts," Cox said. "I just kept attacking and had a lot of confidence in my driving.

"Being the last seed, I went in with nothing to lose."

Cox, who graduated from Hawley high school and played basketball at a private college, but didn't play golf.

"I felt like I was more of a golfer than a basketball player, though," Cox said.

And that definitely showed Thursday, as Hillier becomes the first champion to lose in the first round since 2008 when Cory Blenkush was toppled by Perham's Bob Cavanagh.

"I'm disappointed, but this shows you that you can't make mistakes in match play," Hillier said. "It makes me really appreciate what I did last year, because it is not easy."

Even the first-day medalist Hanson didn't advance, after veteran Mitch Buboltz of Detroit Lakes downed the Frazee Hornet 1-up in a close match.

That leaves just Moorhead's Nick Olsgaard as the lone top four seed survivor. Olsgaard disposed of Bryce Mattson of Oxbow, N.D. 5 and 4 to advance to the second round.

The Detroit Lakes connection is still alive, although barely.

Laker junior Austin Rusness survived a 19-hole affair before winning 1-up over Long Prairie's Jordan Priem.

Rusness had to have some late heroics by winning hole 18 to push the match into extra holes.

It was his experience on the course which saved Rusness, after his drive ended up in the trees left of the fairway, while Priem's was on the fairway.

"I knew I had a little opening for a shot, so I played it the best I could," Rusness said.

On the playoff hole, Rusness had to just make his par putt, after Priem ended up putting for bogey.

"It feels good to get the win," said Rusness of his first victory in his young Pine to Palm career. "Although I didn't play well, a win is a win."

The biggest comeback of the day belonged to Cavanagh, who was trailing by three holes with four to go, before rallying and downing Fargo's Coy Papachek 1-up.

The second round of action starts at 1:19 p.m. at the Detroit Country Club.

Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN.