Murdaca Claims Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship

By Martin Blake

Australia’s Antonio Murdaca is headed for the 2015 Masters Tournament and The Open Qualifying Series this year after he gave another masterclass in taming Royal Melbourne Golf Club to win the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) today.

Murdaca, 19, from Adelaide, became the first Australian winner of the prestigious championship, closing with a steady 1-under-par 71 that left him seven shots clear of the field, the biggest winning margin in tournament history.

Starting the final round eight shots ahead, the two-time Australian junior champion set two alarms to make sure he did not miss the bus to the course, and then woke before the first of them anyway.

It was a burden to bear, and then when play started, he saw his lead shrink to five shots through nine holes when he took bogeys at the seventh and ninth, as Japanese player Horikawa Mikumu was threatening.

It was the only time he felt any pressure, but Murdaca immediately responded with a 20-foot birdie on the tough, par-4 10th, then two pure shots at the par-5 14th set up another birdie to get his advantage back to seven shots.

With his coach Gareth Jones on the bag, he never seemed flustered or nervous, although he may have been churning inside.  He made a string of pars to finish, so that by the time he hit the green in regulation at the 18th, he was prepared to acknowledge that he had won, and waved to the big crowd surrounding the green. “When I hit that shot, I felt some tingles down my spine,” he said.

Murdaca tapped in for a four to finish at 13-under with rounds of 69-68-67-71 with Horikawa outright second at 6-under-par.

Australians dominated the leaderboard, with long-hitting Todd Sinnott third at 5-under and Ryan Ruffels racing home with a final-round 68 to finish fourth at 3-under. China’s Dou Zecheng and Guan Tianlang tied fifth with Chinese Taipei’s Pan Cheng-Tsung at 2-under.

“It’s special,” said Murdaca. “It’s a dream that’s come true for me now, and I always wanted to play in the Masters and it’s so exciting now knowing I’ve got a spot in there, and also in the Qualifying Series for The Open at St Andrews.”

The host nation was allowed 10 players in the field, as opposed to six for other nations, and this proved significant for Murdaca, who was only ninth-ranked of his team and would not have had a start otherwise. But he was clearly the best player this week from the time he picked his way around the windswept course on Thursday afternoon in a 3-under 69, one of the rounds of the day.

He had just six bogeys for the week and not a single three-putt, unless you count putts from off the green, of which he had one at the seventh hole today. It is an impressive statistic but it is linked with the fact he hit the golf ball to the right parts of the greens, at 75 percent greens-in regulation.

As always at Royal Melbourne, positional play was everything and Murdaca knew this as well as anyone, while a recent change of shot shape, from a draw to a fade, has been important for him. “The fade seems to do the trick,” he said.

He did not relent or relax until his second shot on the 18th hit the heart of the green. “My coach helped me keep calm and we just executed good shots one after the other.”

Horikawa had a brilliant weekend with scores of 67-69, and his second place puts him into the Open Qualifying Series this year.

“I was worried in the practice rounds, I wasn’t sure if my game would fit the course here but as I played through the week I adjusted to the course and I was able to figure out how to challenge the course and do pretty well,” he said.

“I really wanted to win and be able to go to the Masters next spring as well, but to try and overcome a nine-stroke difference from the third round was really challenging. To finish second and go to the Open Qualifying Series will be a wonderful experience.”

Melbourne, Australia: spectators gather for the award ceremony following the final round of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club). October 26 2014, (photo by Dave Tease/AAC)