Defending champ shoots equivalent of 5-under 67 in morning 18 September 29, 2010 By Pete Kowalski

Tim Hogarth reacts as his third shot at the par-5 18th graces the hole during the morning 18 of Thursday's U.S. Mid-Amateur final. Hogarth trails defending champ Nathan Smith, 5 down, at the break. (Robert Walker/USGA)

Bridgehampton, N.Y. – Defending champion Nathan Smith of Pittsburgh, Pa., was the equivalent of five under par, with the usual match-play concessions, in building a 5-up lead over Tim Hogarth of Northridge, Calif. through 18 holes of the 36-hole final match of the 2010 U.S. Mid-Amateur at Atlantic Golf Club on Thursday.

I played great, said Smith, 32, who is vying for a record-tying third title. Jay Sigel also won three Mid-Amateur championships. He’s a great player so I have to keep it going. It’s going to get tough. It’s going to get crazy. I don’t know if 5-up is enough of a lead. If it was a normal day, [maybe], but with the weather anything can happen. I have to stay with it.

Through 18 holes, Smith cleanly played his way to 13 pars and five birdies (although his 25-footer on the on the par-4 fifth was topped by Hogarth’s 15-footer).  Hogarth countered with five birdies but tallied four bogeys.

It felt good, said Smith, who is an investment advisor. I tried to get it around and not give anything up.

Atlantic Golf Club seemed to dodge the rain that is pouring down on most of the Metropolitan New York City area, but winds are brisk and could reach 40 mph during the afternoon round.

Following Wednesday’s three-round marathon, both players showed that they had been finalists at USGA championships – Smith three times at the Mid-Amateur and Hogarth one time at the U.S. Amateur Public Links, the event he won in 1996.

Hogarth, a reinstated amateur, narrowed Smith’s lead to just 1 up with birdies on No. 8 and No. 9.  Smith’s steady play brought him back, however, and his lead reached 5 up with a birdie on the short par-4 17th.

Smith, a member of the 2009 USA Walker Cup team, is on target to tie several Mid-Amateur records. With a victory, he would become just the second player to win back-to-back titles, joining Jim Stuart (1990 and 1991). In addition, he would add to his 2003 and 2009 triumphs to match Jay Sigel, the winner in 1983, 1985 and 1987, for most Mid-Amateur championships.

Hogarth and Smith, who have not met, are the first co-medalists to meet in the Mid-Amateur final. Only two medalists have ever claimed the championship: George Zahringer in 2002 and Smith last year.

The second 18 holes of the championship match is scheduled to begin at noon EDT.

The winner receives a gold medal and custody of the Robert T. Jones Jr. Memorial Mid-Amateur Trophy for a year. The champion has received an invitation to the next Masters Tournament every year since 1989.

The U.S. Mid-Amateur, which is open to golfers age 25 and older, is one of 13 championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.

Pete Kowalski is a manager of championship communications for the USGA. E-mail him with questions or comments at pkowalski@usga.org.