Aussies Take Top Two Positions at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship

Another Australian has vaulted into the lead at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship after 19-year-old Antonio Murdaca posted his second consecutive round in the 60s at Royal Melbourne today.

Murdaca, who made the best of the blustery conditions Thursday afternoon with an opening 69, improved upon that round with a 4-under-par 68 Friday to overtake Todd Sinnott, the first-round leader, by a shot.

The prospect of an invitation to the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in 2015 plainly appealed to Murdaca, who hails from Adelaide in South Australia and has twice won the Australian junior championship. In fact, his first memory of the Masters is the famous Tiger Woods chip-in on the par-3 16th on his way to a victory in 2005.

At 7-under through two rounds, he leads Sinnott (67-71) by a shot heading into the weekend, with a cluster of Asian players on their heels. Thailand’s unheralded Tawan Phongphun (69-71) is at 4-under through two rounds, along with China’s Cheng Jin (71-69).

Chinese Taipei’s Cheng-tsung Pan, one of the premier players in amateur golf, is lurking at 3-under after he matched Murdaca’s 68, four shots back along with New Zealand’s Joshua Munn, who had the day’s low round of 67, China’s Guan Tianlang (68-73) and India’s Udayan Mane (72-69).

Murdaca scrambled his way to a good score, making wonderful pars from awkward places, such as at the par-3 seventh where he was left of the green and forced to hit a spinning chip at a 90 degree angle to the flag, and at the par-4 11th, where he missed the green by 20 yards. “My short game’s always helped me out a fair bit,” he said. “We’re quite lucky out here, the surrounds of the greens are great. You’re never going to get enough bounce, as long as you hit the shot you want. You pretty much hit it where you want to.”

Until this year he has not qualified for the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, and it was only the fact that the host nation is afforded 10 positions that allowed him into the field. He was ninth-ranked of the 10 Australians, but he outshone his compatriots today.

Of Italian heritage, he was born in Australia but then lived in Italy for two years, and the first words he uttered were Italian rather than English, although the family returned to Australia when he was still an infant. His name was even the source of some debate today, since his coaches and associates know him as Anthony, but Murdaca answered this simply: “Antonio is fine,” he said.

Local boy Sinnott began the day with a one-shot lead but had only one high point in his second round, a sand wedge shot from 141 yards at the par-four first hole, his 10th hole of the day, that landed, spun and dropped in the hole for eagle. “It was a relatively easy shot, just a draw to the pin,” he said. “I hit 54 (degree wedge). My standard 54 carries 120, so I knew if I went a bit harder with a draw it would go a bit further. I managed to pull it off, which is nice.”

The 22-year-old Australian hit 3-iron, then sand wedge to the first hole, which measures 428 yards, as an indication of his enormous length and carry. He launched just one driver all day, placing his ball around the course, and he has missed just three fairways in two rounds, the least of anyone in the field.

“I like hitting driver, but it’s silly to be driving around here a lot,” he said. “I quite like playing the defensive game, or smart with irons. I like that kind of position golf.”

Thailand’s Phongphun was something of a surprise, picking his way around the course with aplomb. Ranked outside the top 400 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, Phongphun said he picked up the game as a boy in Udonthani, outside Bangkok. “At 11, my dad would take me to the golf course and leave me at the golf course and I would just stay there and just watch, and somehow I picked up that interest and just wanted to start playing golf.“

As for Murdaca, the leader, he said he would focus on process.  “All I’m looking to do is hit great shots, one after the other.  So I’m not going to think too far ahead.”

A total of 66 players made the halfway cut, at 10-over par. The first hit-off tomorrow is at 8:20 am, with the leaders away at 10:00am.

Melbourne, Australia: Niko Vui of Samoa pictured at the 2104 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club during round 01 on October 23, 2014. (Photo by Brett Crockford/AAC)
Melbourne, Australia: Cheng-tsung Pan of Chinese Taipei pictured at the 2104 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club during round 03 on October 25, 2014. (Photo by Brett Crockford/AAC)