DAVID Micheluzzi stayed on course for success at The 124th Amateur Championship by winning his all-Australian contest to advance to the last 32 at Portmarnock in Ireland.
The top-ranked player in the field, sitting at seventh on the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR), came through a tight tie with compatriot and good friend Kyle Michel.
Micheluzzi, who reached the quarter-finals at Royal Aberdeen last year and is seeking to become the first Australian winner of The Amateur since Bryden Macpherson in 2011, defeated Michel by two holes.
Micheluzzi said: “It was a grind, as I think I only hit three or four fairways so I had to rely on hitting it out into the right spots and making putts inside 10 feet which I did.
“My short game and putting is what I do best and I’ve just got to hit more fairways and greens for now on. It’s an amazing course and a great test, there are no easy holes and you have to think on every shot.
“I was looking at my phone last night and saw that I was playing Kyle which was crazy. As two Victorian golfers, we wanted to meet each other later in the competition but these things happen.
“We train three or four times together in Australia and I see way too much of him in our programmes! We have a lot of fun and banter and it felt a bit weird playing a mate in this calibre of event.”
The 22-year-old advanced to meet Somerset’s Tom Sloman in Thursday’s third round after the Englishman, also ranked highly at 28th in the world, displayed all of his battling qualities to defeat fellow countryman Joseph Pagdin – the England junior international, who is based at Lake Nona, in Florida – by one hole.
Four down after 11 holes, Sloman was making plans to head home before the Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup squad member produced a brilliant fightback that he capped on the final green.
Sloman, who reached the last four of the English Amateur at The Berkshire, in 2017, said: “I thought I was going home, four down after 11.
“I was about to get on the phone actually and book my flight but I hung on in there. Joe didn’t play too great coming in and I played pretty well all day.
“I just didn’t hole any putts, until a couple late on, as he struggled. I got a little lucky at times, to be fair, but you take it when it comes.
“It’s a tough course and I’ve not had my best game but I’ve been grinding it out. I’ll need to get back on the range and hit more balls,” Sloman added.
With Portmarnock hosting The Amateur Championship for only the second time after the previous staging in 1949, the famous links near Dublin is also being enjoyed by another English player – Thomas Plumb, a county team-mate of Sloman.
The leading qualifier from the strokeplay stage wasted little time in reaching the third round after comfortably seeing off the challenge of Spain’s Alejandro del Rey Gonzalez 7&5.
The Yeovil member raced to a five-hole lead at the turn and then almost holed his approach shot to the 11th before sealing the contest at the 13th.
Plumb, who grew up playing junior golf at his club which is affiliated to Dorset Golf Union – but is over the county line in Somerset – said: “I kept things going from yesterday and started off quickly, making birdies on one and two.
“I struck it into the first hole to about six feet and holed about a 20-foot putt on the second. I felt if I kept playing like that it wasn’t going to be too much of a problem.
“I’m superstitious myself so you do think about the history of top qualifiers often losing in the first round.
“Regardless of where I go in the championship, I thought getting through the first round tie was going to be the hardest one.”
In total, seven Englishmen made it through to the last 32 – including Hampshire’s Billy McKenzie, who knocked out Castle Royle’s David Langley 7&6, having been beaten by the eventual champion Jovan Rebula, the nephew of Ernie Els, in Scotland 12 months ago.
McKenzie was joined in the third round draw by Northamptonshire County’s Ben Jones, Lindrick’s Bailey Gill, Hexham’s Matty Lamb, Redditch’s James Robinson, Ruddington Grange’s Daniel O’Loughlin and St George’s Hill’s Angus Flanagan.
The biggest casualty from the England ranks was Devon’s St Andrew’s Links Trophy winner Jake Burnage, from Saunton, beaten at the 20th by Flanagan.
There was also a convincing victory from Germany’s Matthias Schmid as he came close to the biggest margin of victory possible in match play. The 21-year-old, a winner on the college circuit at the University of Louisville this year, won the opening five holes against Sam Done and triumphed 9&8.
In another remarkable match, this time in a preliminary first round tie, Italy’s Giovanni Manzoni finally advanced at the 25th hole after a marathon meeting with Eduard Rousaud, from Spain.
On another dry and sunny day at Portmarnock, the venue for the 1991 Walker Cup, Irish hopes also remain alive.
James Sugrue defeated West Cornwall’s Harry Hall by two holes, while Ronan Mullarney progressed after beating Wiltshire’s Jake Bolton 2&1.
In the last match of the day Northampton County’s Benjamin Jones eliminated the Dane John Axelsen, who was the second-placed qualifier, by two holes.
The matchplay stage continues today with the last-32 and last-16 ties, with the winner in Saturday’s 36-hole final gaining exemptions into The Open at Royal Portrush next month, the 2020 US Open at Winged Foot and, by tradition, an invitation to play in the Masters Tournament.
Entry is free of charge throughout the week for all spectators at Portmarnock while news and video can be followed on The R&A’s website and social media platforms. Follow live scoring here.