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Cream rises to top in Birchmont Senior division

MONTE DRAPER | BEMIDJI PIONEER Daniel Gilman rips a tee shot during his victory over Pete Passolt in Thursday's Birchmont Senior Championship quarterfinals.

BEMIDJI -- Jeff Tweeton of Perham won the Birchmont Senior Championship division in 2003, 2005 and 2006. He also was a runner-up in 2004.

His extended experience has taught Tweeton that the talent pool in the Senior ranks continues to improve each summer and this year the Birchmont veteran believes that the Seniors who qualified for match-play could more than hold their own in the other championship divisions.

"Overall, the Senior Championship field is much stronger now than it was when I won those tournaments," Tweeton said. "We are now into the semifinals and there is no favorite. We are all playing very well and if we all play to our capabilities (during Friday's semifinals) both matches will be dogfights.

"And I hope that is what happens."

Tweeton advanced to today's semifinals by tripping Tom Allen of Bemidji 4 and 3 in Thursday's quarterfinals. Today he will tangle with John McEnroe of Woodbury who stopped Todd Schaefer of Grand Forks 5 and 4.

In today's upper bracket, Jeff Wiltse of Bemidji will face Daniel Gilman of Centennial, Colo. Wiltse thumped Peter Rasmussen of Eden Prairie 2 and 1 Thursday while Gilman downed Pete Passolt of Orono 5 and 4.

Wiltse and McEnroe also bring impressive resumes into today's semifinals. Wiltse was a three-time Executive champ, claiming the crown in 2002, 2003 and 2004. McEnroe also owns a pair of Executive titles, capturing the prize in 1995 and 1999.

All four of the Senior semifinalists know how to win and all four are playing well enough to hoist the trophy on Saturday.

"I think it's anybody's game," Wiltse, who was the division medalist by shooting 148, said. "I'm playing well but so is everybody else in the field."

Wiltse has taken two different paths to today's semifinals. In Wednesday's first round he forced extra holes against Charlie Peterka of Little Falls with a par on No. 18 and then outlasted Peterka, finally winning with a birdie on the fifth extra hole.

Prior to that winning birdie both golfers parred four straight holes.

On Thursday Wiltse seemed to have his match won 5 and 4 but Rasmussen believed that Wiltse had received advice from two people about the break of a putt and called Wiltse on the violation.

As a result, Rasmussen turned a five-hole deficit to three holes but Wiltse eventually closed his opponent 2 and 1, cementing the victory with pars on the 16th and 17th holes.

"Winning in 23 holes against Charlie gave me the confidence going into Thursday's match," Wiltse said. "I played well against Charlie and anytime you survive a playoff that is that long it's a boost."

Wiltse knows that he will have to continue his strong play to stay with Gilman.

"I played with Daniel on the second day of qualifying and he his an extremely good ball striker," Wiltse said. "And he also is a great guy so we'll have fun on the course.

"The key for me will be to hit the greens and, hopefully, some fairways," Wiltse continued.

Tweeton is predicting par or better rounds by all four semifinalists. He also believes that anything worse would result in defeat.

"You'll have to be right around par to stay in tomorrow's matches," Tweeton said. "If you play three or four over par I think you're going to be buried."

The Senior Championship matches will begin at 12:30 p.m.

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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