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Birchmont golfers fight through the rain

Mike Christensen of Grand Rapids hits out of the sand on the sixth hole during men's championship play Thursday at Bemidji Town & Country Club. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Put the rain gear on, take the rain gear off - so went the rain dance in the men's championship Thursday at The Birchmont.

The eight golfers that emerged from the rain and advanced to Friday's quarterfinals were survivors of one of the more competitive second rounds in recent years.

Two of the eight matches were decided on the 18th hole and two other matches needed extra holes.

The remaining Bemidji golfers - Chris Curb and Paul Daman - were knocked out on the 18th green. Daman was unable to make a birdie putt to extend his match with 2007 champion Johnny Larson and Curb's day ended with a bogey on the final hole.

Josh Bergrud of Grand Forks knocked off Curb in a rematch of the 2005 junior championship - a match Curb won 4 and 3.

"I would say I played really well through about 15 holes but it was just a back and forth match," said Bergrud, a Red River graduate who works for the City of Grand Forks. "It was really hard to get comfortable in the rain today."

On the fifth hole, the rain turned his club grips into oil slicks. His three wood slipped from his hands on his follow through and whipped into the branches of a nearby tree. Bergrud was unable to immediately retrieve the club and finished the round without it.

Larson won a grinding match with Daman, the fourth grade teacher at Northern Elementary School.

"This is the best match I've had up here in a long time," Larson said, echoing a statement he posted on his Twitter account after the match. "If a couple putts went a different way, this could have been a different outcome. We were back and forth all day."

Larson was 1 up at the turn until Daman eagled the 10th to pull the match all square. Larson regained the lead on the 12th with a birdie but fell back to all square with a bogey on the 13th.

The difference in the match was Larson's birdie on the 17th hole.

"I look forward to this week every summer, it's the best tournament of the year," Larson said. "I'm playing great and a lot of the way things go out here is determined by the matchups you draw."

Larson and Daman held honors for the lowest stroke play scores: Larson was five-under par and Daman was four-under par.

Larson advanced to face Bergrud in the quarterfinals.

Winning in extra holes were Mike Christensen of Grand Rapids and 16-year-old Thomas Strandemo of Fargo.

Strandemo defeated David Mooney of Palm Desert, Calif. in 19 holes in a match that saw five lead changes.

Christensen, the former two-time state high school champ from Grand Rapids, Duke University golfer and professional, needed 20 holes to outlast Brandon Myers in the longest match of the day.

Christensen won when Myers three-putted the 20th hole - the par-3 second hole at Bemidji Town & Country Club.

It was a back-and-forth match with Christensen holding a 2 up lead through four holes. Myers rallied to go 2 up after 14 holes and that was when the match heated up.

Christensen birdied the 15th to pull within one. On the 16th, the same hole Myers eagled on Wednesday with a 70-yard chip, Myers bogeyed and the match moved all square.

Christensen birdied the 17th to go one up and Myers drained a clutch 10-footer for birdie on the 18th to force extra holes.

"With match play it's just always so much about momentum. I had it on the front nine and he had it on the back nine," Christensen said.

Christensen regained amateur status this year and won the stroke play Nemadji Invitational (Superior, Wis.) in his first tournament back last week. He was a late addition to The Birchmont and said this will be the only other tournament he will play in this summer.

"I applied to regain my amateur status in May and I really didn't have the ambition to play in any tournaments this year," Christensen said. "But with being home, talking to friends you miss the atmosphere of tournaments like this and being around the guys."

For Christensen, the rain provided one primary challenge.

"Everyone played in the rain for at least a couple of shots," Christensen said. "The real issue was how the rain softened up the greens. The ball started spinning more after the rain went through. It's funny because you think it would be an easy adjustment to make, but it's not as easy as you think.

Christensen advances to face qualifying medalist Jesse Nelson, who defeated Neil Rude of White Bear Lake 3 and 2.

Nelson acknowledged playing well Thursday and did not mind the wet weather.

"I love the rain," he said with a smile.

For Tim Skarperud of Grand Forks, the challenge of playing in the rain was keeping dry.

"In a tournament like this that's so long, you're going to have days like this where it rains," Skarperud said. "The key for me is just keeping as dry as possible - my hands, my grips - I needed to go and grab a cart."

Skarperud, who was runner-up in the epic 2006 men's championship match to current Gateway Tour player Kane Hanson, advanced to the round of eight by defeating Brad Anderson of Staples 2 up.

He advanced to face Strandemo in the quarterfinals.

Also advancing to the quarterfinal round were University of California sophomore Devin Hexner and three-time Vandersluis champion Tom Jenkins.

Hexner defeated Matt Skarperud 4 and 3. Jenkins defeated Justin Cross 3 and 2. The two will meet in today's quarterfinals.