Bhatia, Wotnosky ousted in match play at U.S. Amateur Four-Ball

PINEHURST It was hot, the pace of play was agonizingly slow and their match a tight one Monday in the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship.

“It was a grind,” Akshay Bhatia said.

It was also a tough one to lose. Bhatia and Grayson Wotnosky of Wake Forest were beaten in the first round of match play as Garrett Rank of Elmira, Ontario, and Patrick Christovich of New Orleans scored a 1-up victory on Pinehurst No. 2.

Rank and Christovich never trailed in the match but never could take more than a 1-up lead. They also answered nearly every challenge as Bhatia and Wotnosky, the youngest team among the 32 that qualified for match play, hit good shots and maintained the pressure.

Bhatia, 15, had 20-foot eagle putts on the par-5 fifth and par-4 seventh holes — the lean left-handed player powering a drive over the tall pines of the dogleg and onto the green on the 319-yard seventh.

But Bhatia missed both eagle putts, settling for birdies that Christovich and Rank matched. Christovich knocked his third shot to tap-in distance for birdie at the fifth hole, and Rank, an NHL referee with a passion for golf, rolled in a 25-footer for birdie at the seventh.

Bhatia missed a 15-footer for birdie at the par-3 15th that would have given his team a 1-up lead. Rank then made a nice two-putt par from 50 feet to win the par-3 17th for the 1-up lead.

“Those boys had a ton of heart,” Christovich said. “They threw some fight-bumps at us and kind of got us fired up.”

Wotnosky, 16, began to feel the effects of the heat at the 10th hole and was attended to briefly by on-course EMS personnel at the 15th. He wrapped cool towels around his neck, drank plenty of water and gamely played on.

“We played solid golf today but they kept making putt after putt after putt,” Wotnosky said.

Rank and Christovich reached the semifinals of the 2016 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball at Winged Foot, and Rank was the runner-up in the 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship. They’re experienced in match play and kept their poise when things got sticky Monday.

Bhatia and Wotnosky tied for third after two rounds of stroke-play qualifying, going 8-under through 36 holes. And while they bowed out in the first round of match play, they could see the value of competing in the U.S. Golf Association event.

“It was awesome,” Wotnosky said.

“Overall, the week was great,” Bhatia said. “I can’t complain with how we played today. We fought and fought, and they just played one shot better than us.”

Chip Alexander: 919-829-8945, @ice_chip