Golf Australia

Murray magic dodges #USAmateur bullet

Zach Murray is the last Aussie standing at the US Amateur Championship after an extraordinary finish to his first match play clash at Pebble Beach.

With good mates Dylan Perry and Blake Windred having each run into their share of misfortune in bowing out in the round of 64, Murray survived a pulsating final-hole challenge by American Jack Rhea to advance 1-up on the back of four rousing birdies in his closing six holes.

Conversely, Perry was on the wrong side of a similar finish in losing 1-down to young American Jackson Van Paris.

And Windred ran full-length into a Taiwanese buzzsaw named Chun An Yu who made five birdies in his opening eight holes to eventually win 6&5.

So the Aussie focus was left on Murray, the 21-year-old Victorian who'd been near the top of the day one leaderboard, but had to survive a late scare on day two just to make the match play.

The Wodonga beanpole took a 1-up lead to the last tee, but was soon in trouble with his tee shot on the famous par-five running through the right fairway bunker but giving him a limited stance.

From there, he had no option but to bump an 8-iron to 140m out then watch in dismay as Rhea's rifled second narrowly missed the cup and set up a 5m eagle putt.

"The wind had been into us, but it died just before I hit my third and so I went and grabbed a 9-iron and hit it just short of pin-high and right to about 7m, so still outside his," Murray explained.

"It probably sounds weird, but as I got up to the green, I just had a sense of calm and was able to put a couple of good minutes of concentration into the putt and seettle over it and then just boxed it perfectly.

"I was up and about, gave it a fist pump, then I realised he still has a chance, I'd better calm down because we could be going to the 19th in a minute.

"Then his putt's rolling, looking dead centre, and I'm like, `Oh s--t'. Mate, it disappeared into the hole, but then it just came out - a massive horseshoe.

"I couldn't believe it. I don't think he could, either.

"It was a crazzy match, a ripping match, one of the best I've ever had.

"And to birdie 17 and 18 to win was incredible, especially at Pebble Beach."

Earlier, both men had shared the lead but never been more than 1-up. A par on the 15th was enough for the American to draw level again and he was more than hopeful when his tee shot on the par-three 17th was all over the flag in the air.

"But it just hit the breeze a little and came up about 20feet short," said Murray, who then his own tee shot to 3m right of the flag to set up what became the winning putt.

Murray will next face Californian Clay Feagler in tomorrow's round of 32, confident that he's overcome his second-day jitters.

"One thing I learnt from yesterday was that I wasn't trusting myself, even though I was playing well," Murray said.

"I just had to go out there with a nothing-to-lose attitude and play my game ... and I was really please being able to do that, especially in that closing run.

"Hopefully I can keep it going tomorrow."

Gold Coaster Perry, sadly, endured a particularly rugged end to his title hopes.

Having halved the first 10 holes, Van Paris won the 11th and 12th, the latter when Perry's tee shot on the par-three trickled to a nasty downhill slope in the back bunker and all but snookered him.

A par on the 13th and conceded birdie on the 14th had the match square again.

Thanks to a superb Perry up-and-down on the 16th - he stook in the bunker and bumped a shot while holding the club halfway down the shaft - it stayed that way until the 17th, where Perry could be excused for thinking he'd done enough to lead.

After hitting to 4m off the tee, Perry's caddie and fellow Queenslander Shae Wools-Cobb was heading to the cup to pick out his birdie putt until it hooked hard late and lipped out.

Again, with both players laying up on the closing par-five, Perry's hopes soared when he pitched his third to about 10 feet and watched his North Carolina opponent's approach dribble into the intermediate rough at the front of the green.

But hope turned to despair when Van Paris' superb bump shot trickled in on the low side for birdie and Perry's putt to extend the match slid narrowly by.

"It was one of those things, just classic match play," a philosophical Perry said.

"I hit three great shots on 18 and he's hit his good one when it counted the most.

"I thought I played better all day tee to green, but he did well to take the opportunities when they came up."

Far from discouraged, Perry said he was excited about the coming months, almost certainly the last of his amateur career.

"I'll get home and take it easy for a week, then really get stuck in with my coach (PGA pro Simon Deep) for the second stage of Japan Tour Q-School in September and then the Asia-Pacific Amateur in October," Perry said.

"I'm just glad this week has really opened my eyes up that I'd basically been putting too much pressure on myself, so I'm just ready to go again and do what got me here."

Windred simply wasn't given a chance by his Taiwanese opponent.

Chun birdied the second, fourth, fifth, sixth and eighth holes and it wasn't until the ninth, won by Windred's ninth straight par, that he hit an errant shot.

But by that stage, the Novocastrian had endured too much damage to bounce and was soon left six-down with another Chun birdie on the 12th.

Matching pars on the 13th were enough to end the match.

"I played some great golf again today, but the other guy just played too good," Windred said. 

"I had eight pars to start the day and was five down in pretty windy conditions.

"Then I had two plugged bunker shots in a row and that just buried me, but that’s just match play.

“When you're five down and haven’t missed a shot, I think it’s very hard mentally to think positive. 

“It felt like whatever I did, he did better. But that’s golf." 

Despite the early exit, Windred was buoyed by his performance on the road in the past two months. 

“What a learning experience this trip has been," he said.

“I’m still happy. I know how much I have improved, and where my golf is heading."


Zach Murray
Zach Murray launches his tee shot on the famous 18th at Pebble Beach. Picture: DIFFERENCE IMAGES

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