Golf Australia

Mature Murray eases into #USAm mix

Zach Murray
Zach Murray takes a shine to Pebble Beach.

A new, mature Zach Murray crawled rather than blazed his way to the pointy end of the US Amateur after a testing first day in California.

Murray carded a tradesmanlike one-under-par 70 at famous Pebble Beach to sit in a share of 12th and top of the Australian contingent after the first of two days of stroke play.

Perth’s Min Woo Lee was next best at one over, with the Sunshine Coast’s Shae Wools-Cobb and Gold Coast’s Dylan Perry, who played at nearby Spyglass Hill, at two over.

Newcastle’s Blake Windred had fought back to be one over with a hole to play at Pebble Beach, but took an untimely double-bogey to close at three over.

All five are well within reach of the top 64 who advance to knockout match play in the year’s premier amateur tournament, with 72 players at one over or better, chasing American Trevor Phillips and New Zealander Daniel Hillier – a former Australian Junior champion – at four under par.

The remaining three Aussies have work to do.

Melbourne’s David Micheluzzi carded a flat five-over 76 at Pebble Beach, one better than rising New South Welshman Nathan Barbieri at the same venue.

At Spyglass, Queenslander Charlie Dann likely played his way out of contention with an eight-over-par 80.

But it was Murray, 21, who was most impressive.

The Wodonga lad, known to many as a knockabout jokester, found himself almost inadvertently in trouble after teeing off on the 10th.

A wayward six-iron on the 12th cost him an early bogey, but then a pushed 9-iron on the par-five 14th plugged in a bunker and after only being able to blast to 20 feet, he three-putted for a double-bogey and suddenly in trouble.

But rather than panic and push too hard as he once might have, Murray slowly but surely ground his way back up the leaderboard with four birdies in 11 holes from the 16th, including one from a special long approach inside 1m on the tough eighth hole.

“A couple of years ago I'd be three over after six and press too hard, but on tough courses like this, I knew if could par around I wouldn't be out of it,” Murray said.

“So I know it sounds boring and cliched, but I just kept myself in it and maintain focus on just one shot at a time.

“And what do you know, it worked.

“I made a good par on the next (15th), birdied 16 and 18, made a couple of good pars on front nine to keep momentum, then birdied the sixth and another on that tough eighth.

“All of a sudden I was in red numbers.

“I felt like I’d been playing all right, but just hadn’t been able to show it and it was a pretty good time to do that, obviously.”

Players switch courses tomorrow, but the challenge of Spyglass Hill doesn’t faze Murray.

“I said to myself at the start of the week that 36 pars would be good enough and I’ll take 18 of them tomorrow,” he joked.

“I actually feel pretty comfortable around Spyglass … so if I can plot my way around tomorrow and give myself 13/14 birdie looks, I'd say I'd be pretty safe, even if I don’t make many.”

Windred didn’t dwell on the ‘what-ifs’ after his closing error left him in a share of 104th.

“I tried to play it out of the hazard on the hardest hole on the course,” the likeable 20-year-old said.

“I got too greedy, but life goes on.

“I won’t be changing a thing tomorrow.

“I just need a couple of putts to drop and it could be very good,” he smiled.

Barbieri found out first hand how tough one of the game’s greatest courses can be set up, particularly two of the most famous par-fives.

“I didn’t feel like I played that bad, I just had two poor holes that cost me five shots.

“On the sixth, I was greenside for two in 10-inch rough, I flubbed it out, but still had to chip on and then I three-putted.

“On the 18th, I hit one out-of-bounds then hit another one in the water,” Barbieri lamented after his closing triple-bogey.

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