Many before Zach Murray have come a cropper on Royal Melbourne West’s brutal pair of closing holes.
But today, as many in the Australian Master of the Amateurs field bent if not broke in the sapping heat, Murray stayed ice cool to make back-to-back closing birdies to nab the halfway lead in imperious style at six under par.
Murray, 17, was one of a handful of Victorians who adapted best in the blustery northerly breeze that can make Royal such a demanding beast.
He will be joined in the last group on Thursday by fellow Commonwealth pennant player Frazer Droop and Yarra Yarra’s Andrew Schonewille – who each matched Royal’s own Darcy Brereton’s 68 for the day’s best score – to be five under.
The wind made the already slick greens even quicker, bringing any misplayed putt to grief and leaving several of the big names in the field a long way from the lead.
Bendigo’s Lucas Herbert, the world No.5, had no luck with the putter and ended with a 76 to drop to one over, one better overall than good mate Ryan Ruffels who was better today for a 72.
Fellow GA national squad member Cory Crawford fought out his round well after stumbling to a double-bogey on the straightforward par-three 13th, finishing with a 71 to be two out of the lead at -4.
But Antonio Murdaca had a 75 to be +3, Cam Davis shot 77 to be +5 and Brett Coletta had a horror nine on the 14th en route to a 78 to be +9.
The world No.4 and No.8 players, American Will Zalatoris and Canadian Corey Conners respectively, matched each other again with 71s to be one under and still in the mix.
But the day belonged to Murray, of Wodonga, whose impressively calm demeanour helped him overcome some late bogeys to play two stellar approaches to holes that gobbled up many of his peers.
He cut an eight-iron to 1.5m to a tight front pin on the 17th and then almost holed another eight-iron to a testing back-right pin on the closing hole to erase the damage, particularly of a par putt that defied physics to lip out on the rugged 16th.
“I was solid for first 13 or 14 holes, then hit a poor drive on 15 that cost me a bogey and then couldn’t get up and down on 16,” Murray said after his second consecutive 69.
“But I kept cool and hit two good shots in on those last holes – they were always going to be very tough and so to finish birdie-birdie, I can’t ask for much better.
“I definitely picked up a couple of shots (on the field) there. I was trying to play smart shots and let the greens help work the ball towards the hole, so it worked out well.”
Murray, who won the 2013 Victorian Amateur title, said not qualifying to defend his crown last month had hurt and made him buckle down.
“I had a poor end to 2014 and missed the cut at the Victorian Amateur, so I took a break, had a quite New Year and I’ve come back out and it has helped me,” he said.
“I’ve never been in front of a big event like this, so it’s a pretty good feeling.”
Droop, another northern Victorian based in Yarrawonga, made a bogey on the first hole today to fall to square, but didn’t make a mistake from there on, including a ferretted par on the last to be five under.
“I got on a bit of a roll – four under after 11 – and then I really just hung on from there,” said Droop, who was a runaway winner of the four-round Port Phillip Amateur recently at nearby Kingston Heath and Commonweatlh Golf Clubs.
“I’ve been playing OK lately, so it’s nice to keep it going. I handled it pretty well in the Port Phillip, so hopefully I can keep it going tomorrow.”
Schonewille, from nearby Rosebud, had seven birdies with some precise iron approaches, but was more happy that his wayward shots didn’t cost him more than a bogey anywhere.
“I’m just happy to be going along steadily,” he said.
“It will be good to play with a couple of mates tomorrow and keep it all as relaxed as possible.”
Of note today was Coletta’s incredible 14th hole when he had been on the tee at two under for his round.
The young Melburnian hooked his tee shot into the left rough and took a penalty drop before ricocheting his third out of bounds and then having bunker trouble behind the green for a quintuple-bogey nine.
He then had a double-bogey on the 16th – a hole on which he had a quadruple bogey seven in round one – to remarkably crash to six over despite six birdies and two eagles at halfway.
A similar fate befell Perth’s Jarryd Felton who had been two under standing on the 17th tee today before approach issues and consecutive three-putts left him with a double-triple finale for a 75.
Felton has also had seven birdies in his opening rounds, but will start tomorrow four over to highlight the course’s teeth.
The third round begins at 8am.