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McNealy battles from behind to remain alive in U.S. Amateur

 

Stanford junior Maverick McNealy was regarded as the best male golfer in college this past season after being honored with both the Jack Nicklaus Award and Haskins Award as the NCAA Player of the Year.

The Portola Valley resident led the nation with a 68.70 scoring average, won an NCAA regional and made the cut in two PGA Tour events.

At the 115th U.S. Amateur Championship, however, McNealy is just one eight first-team All-Americans and one of 64 talented players who battled their way into match play on Wednesday at Olympia Fields Country Club in Olympia Fields, Ill.

McNealy, in fact, was only seeded No. 39 in his first-round match against Canada's Austin Connelly, the No. 26 seed.

And, despite holding a 4-up lead after seven holes, McNealy had to battle from behind on the back nine before securing a 1-up victory over Canada's Austin Connelly.

The duo halved only seven holes in the see-saw match.

"I just didn't want to go extra holes against Austin," said McNealy, who clinched the win with a pressure-packed six-foot par putt on the 18th green.

McNealy moved to the Round of 16 on Thursday morning.

The second-ranked amateur in the world, McNealy qualified for match play on Wednesday morning after two rounds of stroke play. He followed up a first-round 2-over-par 72 on the north course Monday with an even-par 70 on the South Course.

Second-round play was delayed 90 minutes on Tuesday due to inclement weather the night before and McNealy was one of 54 players who had to return Wednesday to complete his round.

McNealy started his second round on the back nine Tuesday and shot even-par. He was 1-over through the next seven holes when play was suspended due to darkness.

"I had to sleep on the cut line overnight," McNealy said.

He came back Wednesday morning and rolled in a clutch 30-foot birdie putt at the par-4 eighth hole, then made a great par save at the ninth to finish at 2-over 142.

The cut for the 64-player match play portion of the tournament came at 3-over, with 18 players playing off for the final 10 spots.

Atherton resident Jonathan Garrick was one of those 18, shooting rounds of 72 and 73. He was eliminated on the third hole.

McNealy has a good history at Olympia Fields. Last September, he helped lead Stanford to a tie for fourth in the Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Invitational, tying for first individually. McNealy recorded rounds of 71-71-71.

Fresh off a win last week in the NCGA Amateur Match Play Championship at Spyglass Hill Golf Course in Pebble Beach, McNealy bolted to a 4-up advantage against Connelly by winning the par-4 second hole with a birdie, the par-4 third with a par, the par-5 sixth with a birdie, and the par-3 seventh with a par.

But the lanky Connelly fought back gamely to win four consecutive holes and square the match. He captured the eighth with a birdie, the par-4 ninth with a par, the par-4 10th with a birdie, and the par-4 11th with a birdie.

Connelly made a great up-and-down par to tie the par-4 12th hole, then secured his first lead in the match with a birdie at the par-4 13th hole. McNealy countered by winning the next two holes with two-putt pars, and seemed in position to close out the match. But Connelly holed a long par putt from the back fringe at the par-4 16th to halve the hole.

Both players bogeyed the 227-yard par-3 17th hole. McNealy had a chance to win the match, but missed an eight-foot par putt.

That sent them to the 458-yard par-4 18th, where both found the right side of the fairway. The shorter Connelly pushed a fairway wood into the thick right rough, while McNealy knocked his approach shot on the front of the green. Connelly gouged a wonderful sand wedge about eight feet short of the hole, then made McNealy sweat by sinking the par putt. After leaving his lengthy birdie attempt six feet short, McNealy poured his par putt into the center of the cup to win the match.

Most of the back nine was shown live on FoxSports1.

Stanford sophomore Franklin Huang of Poway (California) missed the cut for match play after shooting rounds of 71-75. On Tuesday, he started on the back nine and shot a 6-over 40, but battled back to post a 1-under 35 on the front nine.

— Palo Alto Online Sports/Stanford Athletics

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