As the 2012 Firecracker Open rolls around, it's worth looking at a few of the players who are most likely to be contenders for the title. Because every player in the championship flight has earned their way into the field, they all have a chance to win. However, history does provide some insight into which players have a higher probabliity of hoisting the trophy. Of course, it could always be a first time winner or a "dark horse" that walks away with the trophy. After all, that's why we play the tournament.
After looking at this posting, feel free to comment about who you think will contend and why.
Alex Ellis. Ellis is the current 2011 Firecracker Open Champion after posting a 13 under par total to win by three over second place finisher Mike Allen. Ellis was the runner-up in 2010 so it's evident he plays well at Muny. He is also currently playing well, having won the local U.S. Open Qualifier at Grey Rock with 67, and finished T15 at the U.S. Open sectional qualifier with a one under par total of 72-71=143. He also won the low amateur trophy at the 2012 Austin Open a few weeks ago, as shown here in this photo.
Michael Smith. Just finishing his college playing career, Smith recently captured his second straight Texas Public Links Championship and recently finished T9 in the Texas Amateur after posting a three round total of 4 under par. His rounds of 69-68-72 demonstrates he is playing well and not making many mistakes. He will definitely be a factor.
Stratton Nolen, from Austin, Texas, is a previous winner of the Firecracker Open. He has won the Legends Junior Tour Boys 15-18 division Player of the Year honors for the second consecutive year in 2011 and will start play for the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Fall. Loves Muny and grew up playing the course. He should be a contender for the title.
Joe Bendetti. Recently won the Spring Mid-Amateur Title at Jimmy Clay in a play-off over Peter McGibney and won the 2011 Bluebonnet Cup Championship. Mature and a real competitor. Has not made a strong showing in the Firecracker in previous years but could very well be a factor in the championship.
Seth Stuart recently won the Hill Couintry Championship at Crystal Falls Golf Course in Leander Texas, shooting 68-73 to win by four shots. He just completed his eligibility at the College of Charleston and has been recording some good scores in casual play around town. Could be a factor in the championship and has proven that he can win locally.
Brenden Redfern. Redfern is former Firecracker Open winner and currently playing at the University of Arizona. Redfern is home for the summer and looking to regain his winning ways. The Firecracker could spark some of those winning instincts and propel him into contention.
Michael Cooper. A two time winner of both the Firecracker Open and the City Championship, Cooper certainly has the ability to play well enough to win. However, the mid-amateur life of working and raising a family has cut into his practice time and may impede his ability to perform at the level of his previous play.
Brian Noonan. Twice the Men's City Champion and a former winner of the Firecracker Open, Noonan has regained his amateur status after playing two years professionally. The last two years have been spent starting a career in the investment business and he has only recently resumed playing as an amateur. He finished one shot behind Bhakata and Bell in the Horseshoe Bay Invitational and closed with 72 at Ram Rock. It remains to be seen if the work world has allowed enough time to regain his form. If he has, he will certainly be a factor in the championship.
Nicholas Cristea. Cristea has twice won the Horseshoe Bay Invitational and has won the Harvey Penick Invitational. Now living in Houston and working as a Chemical Engineer, his playing time is limited. However, he recently posted a strong showing in the Horseshoe Bay Invitational and may be inspired by returning to the Austin and it's golfing community where he has had lots of success.
Steve Trafton. Trafton is the current Men's City Senior Champion and a former Men's City Champion. He has yet to win the Firecracker Open and may be motivated enough to mount a charge for the title. Plays Muny well and often so he's comfortable with the course. Could be a factor.
Other players such as Chris Hartenstien, Steve Patterson, Kody King, Drew Bell and Mike Allen have proven track records that indicate they could also be a factor.
Daniel Martinez of Austin, Texas, was the Legends Junior Tour Boys 14 & Under division Player of the Year. Martinez in 2012. He is gaining in strength and experience and may be able to compete for the championship. Certainly someone to watch in the future.
Note: Billy Clagett, six time winner of the Firecracker Open will miss his first Firecracker Open in two decades. He is fighting a left thumb issue and will not be able to compete. "Mr. Muny" as he is know in local golfing circles will be a notable absence from the field.
Who do you think will win and why? Feel free to comment below. Listed here are the players in the championship flight as of last week.