Zach Murray and his caddie WIlliam Hetherington size up a shot at Royal Melbourne. Picture: ANTHONY POWTER
There are 11 players in the world’s top 100 amateurs ranked higher than Zach Murray at this week’s Australian Masters of the Amateurs.
But they all already know he’s the one to beat.
The defending champ, himself ranked 105, resumed normal service at Royal Melbourne today, firing a six-under-par 66 to take a one-stroke lead after the first round.
And while five others are within a stroke of the lead, including world No.8 Aaron Wise, you get the strong feeling that Murray is content within himself.
It’s not that he’s arrogant, far from it.
But the Golf Australia national squad member is simply packing the confidence born of his victory here last year and some invaluable experience to close out 2015.
“I’ve definitely gained a lot of experience from playing the (Australian) Masters and (Emirates Australian) Open … I think it taught me to play my own game and not worry about what others are doing,” he said.
“So even if I stuck to my plan and shoot 72, or I shoot another 66, it won’t really matter. Some days it comes, and it did today, so that’s good.”
Murray, who laughed off suggestions he had an old head on his 18-year-old shoulders, said he felt no additional pressure with a world-class field breathing down his neck.
“Obviously I’m the man to catch, but if I play my game and manage to shoot my score again, they can’t do much about it.
“That’s the beauty of being in the lead.
“Now, I’ve just gotta get back out there tomorrow and do it all again.”
Murray said before the tournament began the West Course at Royal Melbourne suited his eye and that he’d try to tame the par-fives and see what else happened.
And that’s precisely what he did, with three additional birdies on the ninth, 13th and 14th, blemished by just one bogey on the fifth when his errant tee shot ran back down the par-three’s hill.
“I can play safe off the tee around here, which I did, then I just chipped and putted pretty well, so that’s it,” the Wodonga-raised member of Commonwealth said.
“I didn’t really extend myself, just played pretty steady.
“I stuck to my game plan and it felt like that was what I was meant to do – you’ve got to play sensible and smart and the score will come because there are par-fives you can get in two.”
Jason Gulasekharam was blemish-free in his opening 67, while Daniel Hillier had two bogeys in matching his countryman.
Victorian David Micheluzzi was brilliant throughout his round until two closing bogeys dropped him back to five under.
Another on 67 was Korean surprise packet Young-woong Kim, but it was no surprise to see Wise among that group, especially after his ace on the spectacular fifth.
His fellow American and world No.15 Matt Nesmith impressed for a 68, alongside colourful Sydneysider Harrison Endycott, who nailed a 20m bomb for birdie on the last to be tied seventh.
The second round is seeded and begins at 8am tomorrow with free entry at Royal Melbourne.
Leaderboard link: http://leaderboard.miclub.com.au/display-leaderboard?club=royalmelbourne&leaderboardId=1506080055