With a 5-under-par 67 at Royal Melbourne today, Australian Antonio Murdaca posted his third consecutive round in the 60s, giving the 19-year-old an eight-shot lead to carry into tomorrow’s final round of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC). His closest pursuers are at 4-under and needing to go exceptionally low on the Composite Course to have a chance of overtaking him.
Inevitably, his mind may wander overnight to the prize before him: a start in the Masters Tournament next year and also the chance to qualify for The Open Championship at St Andrews, but his buffer is more than handy.
“Yes, it would be a childhood dream, I guess,” said Murdaca, whose first vivid memory of the Masters is of Tiger Woods’ famous chip-in in 2005.
Murdaca came into this event, his first appearance in an AAC, as the ninth-ranked of the 10 Australians. But he has played like a champion, from Thursday afternoon when he was caught in the toughest conditions of the day and shot a 69, to this afternoon, when he made light of the pressure of leading.
The twice Australian junior champion made a two-putt birdie at the second hole to extend his lead, leapt to a six-shot lead by the 16th hole, and then at the long par-five 17th, he delivered what might turn out to be the thunder clap of the event, a near albatross.
His 4-iron second shot from 240 yards bounced up on to the green and ran right over the edge of the cup. He tapped in for eagle and an eight-shot lead.
“We ended up hitting a 4-iron and just wanted to land it short of the green, (so I) just picked my target in the background there and hit the shape I wanted to, and the ball came off nicely,” he said later.
Murdaca admitted the thought of a Masters start would be on his mind. “Yes, I’m quite excited,” he said. “I’m just going to come out tomorrow, same mindset as today, and hope I can have another great round.
The relentless Chinese Taipei player Pan Cheng-tsung is among the group at 4-under-par who will be chasing Murdaca tomorrow, along with China’s 16-year-old Jin Cheng and another Australian, Todd Sinnott.
Asked what he would need to do tomorrow, Pan estimated 67 at the least. “I need a really good round tomorrow. You know with this course, it’s very hard, you can throw a couple of shots away in one hole, so there are a lot of things that can happen. I just want to make sure I’m there for it when it comes.”
Japan’s Horikawa Mikumu had a dazzling day, carding a 5-under 67 that was only matched by the outright leader. Horikawa, who is at 3-under-par, promised fireworks tomorrow. “I’m going to be aggressive, aggressive and aggressive. I’m going to go out there tomorrow and hopefully shoot 6-under to catch 9-under-par. At least 9-under.”
Tee times start from 8 a.m. at Royal Melbourne tomorrow, with the leaders hitting off at 9:40 a.m.