HARBOR SPRINGS -- One crown eluded Petoskey's Joey Garber.
A strong motivator? Perhaps. And there's a whole lot of golf left to be played.
His 70, coupled with his 1-under 71 in Tuesday's opening round, left him with a 36-hole stroke play total of 141, one shot behind medalist-in-the-clubhouse Matt Thompson of Battle Creek, Garber's teammate on the University of Michigan golf team.
Nine players were still on the course when darkness halted play at 9:15 p.m. Wednesday. At least two of those players, Garrett Simons of Grand Ledge and Andy Alvey of Milford, were in the hunt for medalist honors.
Simons opened with a 71 and Alvey carded a 72 on Tuesday. They were scheduled to complete their second round of stroke play on Thursday morning. If neither player, or any of the other seven players still on the course, comes in lower than the 140 posted by Thompson, Thompson claims medalist honors.
The field will be cut to the low 64 players once those players complete their rounds. The cut line appeared Wednesday night to be 153, and 12 players were on that number when play was called.
Whatever the cut number is, any player on that number will head for a playoff early Thursday. The survivor claims the 64th and final spot in match play.
Peter Jensen of Boyne City shot a 3-over 75 on Wednesday. That round, coupled with the 4-over 76 he posted in Tuesday's opening round, gives him a 151 total and a spot in match play.
Phil Harrison of Harbor Springs shot an 8-over 80 to finish with a 155 total and missed the match play cut. Harrison, at 63 the oldest player in the field, shot a 3-over 75 on Tuesday.
Garber, the defending champion, overcame an erratic driver to post his 70 and arrived at his final hole, the 600-yard par-5 ninth, needing a birdie to match Thompson and tie for medalist honors.
His sand wedge approach from 75 yards landed 2 1/2 feet from the hole.
"I hit it right where I wanted to," Garber said minutes after signing his scorecard. "I tried to (land) it below the hole and left and it went above the hole and left. Even though it was 2 1/2 feet it was pretty slippery and I just hit it too hard and it lipped out on the high side.
"Right now it's in the forefront of my mind, but when I step on the tee (Thursday), I won't be thinking about it."
That Garber even had a chance to earn medalist honors was remarkable in light of the way he hit the ball off the tee for most of the day on Wednesday, when a thunderstorm caused a two-hour, 20-minute delay and sent the field of 168 players scampering for cover.
Several times, Garber found himself in the rough or in the trees and was forced to play punch-out or conservative second shots. He began the day on No. 10 and after a birdie on 12, his tee shots on both 13 and 14 ended up in the trees left of the fairway. He managed to save par both times, and birdied Nos. 15 and 16.
"I didn't hit it my best, especially from the tee, but I scrambled well, especially on those first couple holes," Garber said. "I just did what I needed to do on my front nine to escape with pars and that's what you need to do to win a championship. Unfortunately I missed a short (putt) at the end, but it's over and done with. ... A 70 with the way I hit it today is pretty good."
Garber was clearly disappointed in failing in his bid to earn medalist honors.
"I really did want to win in every aspect of this tournament," he said. "It would have been nice. I had my chances. ... I just didn't come through at the end."
The mid-afternoon thunderstorm delay was a blessing in disguise for Thompson, who is playing in his fourth Michigan Am and was the runner-up in 2009 to Tom Werkmeister of Kentwood.
Thompson, who started on No. 1, played the first four holes in 1-over when the rain came. When he returned to the course, he birdied No. 8, bogeyed No. 9, then caught fire on his second nine, carding birdies at 11, 14, 15 and 16 to finish with a 69. He drained a 35-foot putt for birdie on 14, had a tap-in birdie on 15, and canned a 10-footer for birdie on 16.
"No one likes to wait, but I was kind of on my heels a little bit in the beginning (of the round)," said Thompson, 21. "I kind of took a break and regrouped and started hitting it a lot better when we came back out.
"Coming out of the delay (the greens were) a little too soft. Everything was just hitting (the greens) and coming back like 20 feet. It's kind of hard to play when it's like that. But on the back (nine) it was a lot more manageable. Especially on the par fives, hitting long irons, it makes it easier to go for it. You can hit one on the green and keep it there."
Thompson said his goal starting the tournament was simply to get to match play. But after his opening-round 71 left him tied with Garber and Simons for second place, one shot back of leader Chris Cunningham of Milford, thoughts of the medal entered his mind.
"After the first round, it was like I've got to try to win stroke play so I'm playing for something," he said.
Cunningham shot a 3-over 75 in Wednesday's round to finish stroke play with a 146 total.
Garber comes close, oh so close