The front-runner for the St. Louis Metropolitan Golf Association Amateur Player of the Year, Belleville native Phil Caravia may have been hoping to all but seal the deal this week at Westwood Country Club.
But instead, Caravia may have opened the door a little wider Thursday in the opening round of the 44th Metropolitan Amateur Championship.
Fresh off his second win of the season a week ago at the St. Louis District Tournament, Caravia struggled to a 3-over-par 74 and trails Patrick Riordan of St. Louis by eight shots after first-round play.
Winner of the Old Warson Cup championship earlier this season, Caravia struggled just a bit on the par-71, 6,784-yard Westwood Country Club course
"I didn't think I played that bad. I just couldn't make anything happen. It wasn't my day,'' Caravia said. "I hit some good shots but I just didn't make many putts for birdie.
"Hopefully, I'll be able to get it back tomorrow (Friday). This is a big tournament and there are a lot of points at stake and so if I can get it back to par heading into the last day, it can be a good week.''
Riordan didn't have any trouble making birdies as his 5-under par 66 leads 2009 champion Skip Berkmeyer by two strokes.
Three players -- Bryan Bohme, Joe Midgal and former Highland standout Brendan Bargetzi -- shot rounds of 70, while seven players, including Justin Hemings of Edwardsville, shot 71.
In all 150 of the top amateur players in the St. Louis area will compete in round two Friday.
The field will then be cut to the low 40 players, who will play the tournament's the final 18 holes Saturday.
Coming into the Metropolitan, Caravia has 1,230 points for the season, 180 more than Berkmeyer (1,050) and 230 more than Midgal (1,000).
"It would mean a lot to me to win it, because it would show that I played good, consistent golf for the entire season,'' Caravia said. "There are a lot of great amateur players in St. Louis. We still have a few events left, but again this is a big week because of the number of points available.''
Long one of the top amateur players in the St. Louis area, Berkmeyer is the three-time reigning Player of the Year.
But winning the Metropolitan Amateur title is something he's only done once, pulling it off at Bellerive Country Club in 2009.
"For some reason I've never played great golf in this tournament, but I was very fortunate to win at a great golf course in 2009,'' Berkmeyer said. "I've had chances to win a few more, but just haven't been able to get over the hump.
"I played well today. I made some good putts and missed some that maybe I should have made. It's been one of those years where I've played well. My scoring average is very good. I just haven't been able to have that one event that gets me going. I'm hoping this is the one.''
Defending Metropolitan champion Kyle Weldon is among a large group at 1-over par 72. Also at 72 are metro-east players Torrey Welsch and Steven Souchek.
Souchek, who earlier this summer qualified for the U.S. Public Links Championship, was 2 under after 15 holes, then went 3 over in his last three holes to finish at 72.
"I played well for 15 holes. I just didn't close it out,'' Souchek said.
Playing out of Cardinal Creek Golf Course on Scott Air Force Base, Mark Gardiner shot a 75, while two other local standouts, Justin Beaston and Chance Reuter, both shot 76.
Playing out of The Orchards in Belleville, Josh Phillips shot a 77 while former Mater Dei standout Allen Kohnen shot 78.