Aussie trio on #USAm march

Zach Murray
Zach Murray warms up at Spyglass Hill before taking his Leuk the Duck head cover out into battle to honour Jarrod Lyle.

Three Australian men advanced to the match play phase of the US Amateur today.

Dylan Perry, Blake Windred and Zach Murray will fly the Aussie flag when match play begins tomorrow, each full of confidence despite radically different methods of reaching the knockout phase.

American Cole Hammer and former Australian Junior champion Daniel Hillier, of New Zealand, sharing medallist honours at six under after a round each at Pebble Beach and nearby Spyglass Hill.

And for much of the afternoon, it appeared as though up to five of the remaining seven Aussie men would join them in the second phase after Queenslander Charlie Dann was earlier forced to withdraw suffering a painful neck injury.

But as the whips started cracking in the home stretch of what almost always becomes a tense stroke play race, their fortunes varied widely.

In the early groups, Queenslander Perry largely found the form that made him so feared in amateur circles last year, peeling off a quality 68 to reach one under and eventually a share of 10th place with a swag of birdies on the famous Pebble Beach layout.

Newcastle’s Windred, who later had a picture taken alongside legendary Jack Nicklaus, made it an even more special day when he eased to a quality 70 at the tough Spyglass to reach +1 and T24.

But then things became tougher for the Aussies, who all carried Leuk the Duck head covers today in tribute to Jarrod Lyle and to help promote Challenge, the charity Lyle promoted during his battles with cancer.

After starting the day at one under, Victorian Murray was still in cruise control at one over (in total) on the 12th tee at Spyglass.

A bogey on that wicked par three was negated by a birdie on the 14th, but soon gave way to a bogey on the 15th and a double on the 16th as the nerves kicked into top gear.

Now likely needing to par the closing two holes just to make a playoff for the top 64, Murray gave himself a huge scare when his birdie putt on the 18th scurried almost 2m by the hole.

But the Wodonga 21-year-old was equal to the task and holed his return putt to finish three over.

That relief was magnified tenfold an hour later when a series of bogeys by some at that score pushed the cut mark back to four over and allowed Murray the luxury of automatically advancing in a share of 46th.

“What a cracker!” Murray beamed afterwards.

“I was pretty flat when I walked off that last hole, even though I knew I was still alive.

“But it was just a bummer because I’m playing so well and I thought I might have coughed it up, to be honest.

“I was just too aggressive at the wrong times and not aggressive enough when I needed to be … I just couldn’t seem to push the right button and kept making not bad errors, just soft ones and it’s definitely not a course to do that on.

“But that’s all she wrote. All history. I’m in now and none of that matters.

“Whether you’re the top seed or 64th, you’ve just got to win your matches when they start and I can’t wait to get out there now.

“I gave myself a bit of a scare and it’s a bit like a free hit now.”

Perry, on the contrary, was far more clinical in churning out five birdies against two bogeys.

The former New South Welshman turned Gold Coaster, who enjoyed a stunning 2017 northern summer, particularly in the UK, said he’d fallen into the trap of measuring this year’s performances against last.

“I’ve been struggling a little bit at times this year and I kept putting pressure on myself after last year to do the same things again and anything else wouldn’t be good enough,” Perry said.

“But I said to myself at the start of this week, which might be my last time to play here as an amateur, just to relax and enjoy the experience.

“So this is a completely fresh frame of mind, and the results of the past two days are showing it.

“I played really well yesterday and just couldn’t make a putt, but today they started dropping a little bit and it felt great again.”

And on one of Pebble’s two most famous holes, he didn’t even need a putter, chipping in from 40m for birdie on the 18th, the ninth of his round, to set him alight.

“I had an opportunity to go for the 18th in two but decided against it, but then I pretty much “flub-hooked” it into the left sand not too far up,” Perry said.

“It was almost against the bunker wall, but I flubbed it out about again then hit a pitch shot that I thought was going to sit on edge, but after three seconds it dropped.

“It was such a cool thing and … on that hole, especially.”

Windred was unlucky to start the day at three over after closing bogey-triple on day one at Pebble Beach.

But a birdie on the first hole at Spyglass eased his nerves and the recent Porter Cup runner-up continued his form, highlighted as much by his scrambling prowess as much as his three birdies.

“Spyglass is a really tough test of golf and I had to hack it out of rough with a seven-iron a couple of times just to get it back in play,” Windred said.

Blake Windred and Jack Nicklaus
STARSTRUCK: Blake Windred didn't miss the opportunity to grab a picture with the game's greatest, Jack Nicklaus.

“But that birdie early settled me a bit and I knew I was hitting it well, probably the best I've played and felt mentally since I left Australia.

“After yesterday's finish, you can feel a little bit disappointed because I played so well and it felt like I didn't deserve that.

“But I was so ready to go, and I just couldn't wait to get out there. I hit some great shots and it was so easy to stay in the moment.”

Windred was particularly happy that he managed two incredible up-and-downs midway through nine straight pars coming home.

“They were ridiculous in the circumstances, thinking back. I could easily have been +3 and on the edge, but …

“I was up the back on the 12th and felt like about 5m above the green even though I was only 5m from it.

“But I hit my best chip probably in a long time and it landed on a perfect part of fringe and stopped about four feet from the cup.

“I gave a little knuckles to my caddie, we both knew it was a massive up and down.

“Then I was 45m short left in thick rough on the 13th, walked up and found an uphill putt I wanted to leave myself and hit it right there and rolled this thing in from 15 feet … it was more knuckles because it just felt like I made two birdies in a row.

“So I’m playing well, but there’s a whole other tournament to go.

“Tomorrow I’ll just control the things I can control and as long as I play well and put up a good fight, I’ll be happy.”

That opportunity won’t be available to Australia’s two highest-ranked amateurs, with Min Woo Lee (+5) and David Micheluzzi (+7) both squandering shots late to fall from contention.

Shae Wools-Cobb and Nathan Barbieri also finished at seven under, but while both had impressive moments, neither were in the late mix.

A 24-man playoff for the final match play berth will be held before the first match play round begins.

Perry and Murray will each face American opponents, Jackson Van Paris and Jack Rhea, respectively, while Windred will confront Taiwan’s Chun An Yu.

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