Medalist Wood Among 32 to Advance to Thursday August 16, 2017 | PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. By Pete Kowalski, USGA

Hayden Wood, who set the U.S. Amateur stroke-play scoring record on Tuesday, never trailed in his Round-of-64 match Wednesday. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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Reigning NCAA Division I champion Braden Thornberry defeated world No. 1 Joaquin Niemann, 2 up, on Wednesday in the first round of match play in the 117th U.S. Amateur Championship at The Riviera Country Club.

“It’s kind of unfortunate for two of the higher-ranked players to play each other in the first round, but you got to do it at some point,” said Thornberry, of Olive Branch, Miss., who is No. 3 in  the World Amateur Golf Ranking™.

University of South Florida recruit Niemann, 18, of Chile, held a 1-up lead at four different times through the first 11 holes and Thornberry, a University of Mississippi junior, did not have a lead until he won the 13th hole with a birdie.

Thornberry was in the rough, 225 yards from the green with the wind in his face. He curved a 2-iron 20 yards from left to right around trees and onto the green.

“That's kind of the way my golf game is,” said Thornberry, who finished T4 in the St. Jude Classic on the PGA Tour in June. “I am usually better from that kind of stuff than the middle of the fairway. As you could watch today, I hit a lot of good shots from the rough and struggled a little bit from the middle of the fairway.”

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The pair halved the next four holes before Thornberry clinched the match with a 35-foot downhill birdie putt on No. 18.

Niemann, who shot 64 in the final round of the Greenbrier Classic to finish T29, pointed to Thornberry’s shot on No. 13 as a turning point. “I think there was the moment.”

The pair, who both played in the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills, were grouped together in the stroke-play rounds on Monday and Tuesday along with No. 2 Maverick McNealy.

“We played together three days,” said Niemann, 18, who advanced to the Round of 16 in last year’s U.S. Amateur. “He made so many up and downs and he chipped in like three, maybe. Yeah, he's got a really good short game.”

McNealy was eliminated by world No. 13 Connor Syme, of Scotland, 2 and 1.

Oklahoma State University junior Hayden Wood, of Edmond, Okla., who set the 36-hole stroke-play qualifying record, won his first-round match, 4 and 3, over Chris Chrisologo, of Canada.

Wood, 21, is the son of 1977 U.S. Junior Amateur champion and PGA Tour Champions player Willie Wood.

Norman Xiong, the No. 2 seed from San Diego, Calif., who won the Western Amateur earlier this month, was defeated by Billy Walthouse, of Longmeadow, Mass., 2 up.

In a matchup of past U.S. Junior Amateur champions, Will Zalatoris, of Plano, Texas, beat Phillip Barbaree of Shreveport, La., 1 up, by draining a hard-breaking 35-foot downhill putt on the 18th hole, on his 21st birthday.

Six southern California players advanced to the second round: Valencia High junior Ricky Castillo of Yorba Linda, at 17, the youngest remaining player; University of Nevada freshman Joey Vrzich of El Cahon; Pepperdine University junior Sahith Theegala of Chino Hills; University of California-Berkeley junior Collin Morikawa of La Cañada Flintridge; University of Southern California sophomore Cheng Jin of the People’s Republic of China; and UCLA junior Cole Madey.

Another Southern Californian, Matthew Wolff, of Agoura Hills, who finished second at the 2017 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship in July, lost his first-round match.

A 13-for-8 playoff for the final match-play berths began on the drivable par-4 10th hole and lasted two holes.

The 117th U.S. Amateur Championship consists of 36 holes of stroke play, followed by six rounds of match play, concluding with Sunday’s 36-hole championship match. It is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.

Riviera, which was the host site of the 1948 U.S. Open, won by Ben Hogan, and the 1998 U.S. Senior Open, won by Hale Irwin, played at 7,272 yards. Bel-Air, which hosted the 1976 U.S. Amateur and the 2004 U.S. Senior Amateur, served as the stroke-play co-host course. 

Pete Kowalski is the director of championship communications for the USGA. Email him at pkowalski@usga.org.

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