An extraordinary escape shot by Lucas Herbert kept his Australian Amateur Championship hopes alive in a thrilling nine-man playoff today.
With eight players to advance to the top 64, all nine men needed only to avoid the worst score to advance.
And when Herbert was almost knee deep in foliage after his third shot behind the par-five first at The Australian, his chances appeared slim.
But he hacked out an incredible blast with his 62-degree wedge that ensured a bogey at worst and when Liverpool member John McMiles took two in a greenside pot en route to a seven, Herbert breathed again.
All remaining players finished with par or better after they’d tied on four over par, 12 shots behind medallist Nick Marsh.
McMiles was self-effacing after missing out, reflecting on a couple of loose shots almost eight hours after his round finished.
The Australia Post worker even went and did a day’s work in between his golf commitments.
Marsh takes the number one seeding into the matchplay, but a host of Aussies are snapping at his heels, including national squad members Ryan Ruffels and Cam Davis.
Marsh poured in a 10m eagle bomb on the 14th of The Australian to seal top spot for the matchplay.
And that’s something for which the Huddersfield ace cannot wait having won the English Amateur title last year in the same format, going through six rounds of head-to-head battle to triumph.
“In matchplay you’ve got to make birdies … so I tried to do that today to be ready for tomorrow,” Marsh said.
“I played all right, drove the ball much better and hit it quite close on the front nine. It was a steady round.
“It shows I’m in good form, but you never know in matchplay – I’m really looking forward to it.”
Marsh, who has been paired with Ruffels for the first two rounds, said the young Victorian had “helped him on” to his good score.
But the 16-year-old, who charged home with three birdies in his final five holes, joked there would be no favours come the knockout phase.
“I knew I needed a few late to catch Nick, but didn’t quite make it,” Ruffels said.
“But I’m probably glad I didn’t because I would have jinxed myself having knocked out the No.1 seed last year (Ryan Evans) when I was (seeded) 64th.
“So it’s a bit better than that this year.”
Ruffels remarkably didn’t hit a green in regulation until the 7th, but made a 30m birdie putt from the fringe on the first hole.
“I just somehow scrambled to keep it together, then I found some rhythm (around the turn) then a slip-up on 13 (when his approach buried in sand), but I found it again late, so I’m happy with that score.”
Sydneysider Davis, the recent Victorian Amateur champion, is growing in confidence every time he pegs it up.
“I’m getting used to (being around the mark),” the modest Davis said.
“I definitely feel like I’m getting better and feeling more comfortable, so hopefully I’ll keep it going.”
Davis fired a super-impressive 67 with no bogeys and without making any putts of note, highlighting just how impressive his ball-striking has become.
At The Lakes, Singaporean Johnson Poh backed up his opening 70 with an impressive 68 to be six under and outright fourth after the morning groups.
Victorians Lukas Michel (68) and Ben Eccles (71) finished at -4 overall, but got there in very different ways with the latter at one stage leading after an early surge.
Eccles, of Torquay Sands, endured four bogeys during his round, yet is clearly a dark horse for the matchplay with his ability to make a mountain of birdies.
The round of the morning belonged to Ben Stow, whose 65 left him at three under overall.
The Englishman began brightly with birdie, but made a bogey on the second and a double on the third to appear likely headed home early after his opening 76.
But he then peeled off nine more birdies to put that flight on hold, closing with a birdie for a back-nine 30 to leave himself inside the top 10.
That score was later matched by red-hot Zach Murray, who followed his recent Master of the Amateurs victory with seven unblemished birdies today.
“It’s just down to course management, really. I’m taking the big scores out of play and I putted pretty well,” the Wodonga giant said.
“It really didn’t feel like a 65, but there it is.”
The most exciting round of the afternoon belonged to Melburnian Brett Coletta who was twice within a shot of the lead after strings of birdies.
After three straight birdies from 11-13, he had an eagle putt on the 14th to go to nine under and the lead, but inexplicably three-putted to leave him one adrift.
He then took a rip at the par-five 18th green in two only to hit it in the water and, after a ruling, a drop back 80m to the start of the water hazard.
His penalty third rolled into a divot and the resultant heavy chip also found the water from 98m.
His sixth went within 1m, but the double-bogey left him with a 70 and at five under.
“I had to have a crack at it,” Coletta said.
“The lay-up would have been tight from where I was, so it was the right shot, I just didn’t hit it properly.
“Still, we’re here for the matchplay and I’m alive, so it’s all good.”
Another big mover on day two was Queenslander Charlie Pilon who fired a 68 at The Lakes, including the event’s first hole-in-one.
Pilon, of Keperra Country Golf Club, rifled a 130m nine-iron right on the money on the par-three ninth hole for his third career ace.
But his first competitive ace vaulted him up to three under and into the matchplay.
Live scores: http://www.golf.org.au/australian-amateur