Cleveland – Such are the vagaries of match play, where a player can hold a 1-up lead in the middle of the 17th fairway and lose the match one hole later. That’s what Amy Anderson, 20, of Oxbow, N.D., and 18-year-old Moriya Jutanugarn, of Thailand, learned Wednesday in a marquee first-round match in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship.
Jutanugarn was a returning finalist from 2011, when she lost to Danielle Kang, a two-time Women’s Amateur champion. Moreover, it was a rematch of last year’s round of 32, when Jutanugarn ousted Anderson, 1 up, and appeared to be on her way to a similar triumph.
“I’m very relieved,” said Anderson after winning, 1 up, on a steamy afternoon at The Country Club. “Mentally I was prepared to lose to her. It was a huge relief.”
Said Jutanugarn: “Yeah, I’m disappointed, but it’s match play where anything can happen. She played very good. For me to play with her, it was a cordial match. It was fun.”
On the 6,512-yard, par-72 William Flynn design, Jutanugarn and Anderson played a nip-and-tuck match, with neither player establishing momentum. How close was the match? Jutanugarn shot the equivalent of one under par with the usual match-play concessions; Anderson carded the equivalent of two under par. They halved 10 holes and no lead was greater than 1 up.
“It was a tough match,” said Anderson.
Jutanugarn drew first blood, winning the 192-yard, par-3 fifth hole with a par. Anderson, winner of the 2009 U.S. Girls’ Junior who plays collegiately for North Dakota State, evened the match on the 431-yard, par-4 seventh hole when she chipped to within 3 feet of the flagstick and sank the par putt. Anderson won the next hole, the 529-yard, par-5 eighth, with a two-putt birdie while Jutanugarn pulled her 24-foot birdie attempt and settled for a par.
Anderson consistently found the fairway, hitting 10 of 14. She registered 12 of 18 greens in regulation, maintaining a 1-up cushion through the 10th hole. But Jutanugarn sank a 21-foot birdie putt on the par-3 11th hole to even the match. Jutanugarn also struck 10 of 14 fairways and found 13 of 18 greens in regulation, but she recorded 29 putts in all.
Entering the 16th hole even, the match turned in Jutanugarn’s favor on the par-5 hole. With Anderson staring at an eagle putt, Jutanugarn put her second shot in a right greenside bunker. She miraculously holed out for eagle and Anderson couldn’t convert her 33-foot eagle putt.
“That was a huge momentum changer,” said Anderson, one of four golfers from North Dakota to win a USGA title. “I’ve got a great chance to eagle the hole there and then here comes her ball trickling in. It was a great shot.”
Said Jutanugarn, who was the low amateur at the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open: “I like that shot. Yeah, it was a very good shot.”
But one hole later, on No. 17, Jutanugarn’s fate would suddenly change. After blasting her drive 287 yards, Jutanugarn’s ball came to rest in a divot. Anderson sent her approach shot to within 10 feet of the flagstick, while Jutanugarn hit her second shot fat and the ball fluttered into the left greenside bunker as anguish colored Jutanugarn’s face. Anderson two-putted for par, leaving Jutanugarn with a chance to square the hole if she could make her 8-foot par-saving putt. But the ball lipped out and the pair went to No. 18 all even.
On the 385-yard par-4 final hole, Anderson split the fairway while Jutanugarn’s ball found the left bunker. Jutanugarn left her approach shot 20 feet short of the green, setting the table for Anderson. With 112 yards to the hole, Anderson grabbed a pitching wedge and hit a clutch shot 3 feet from the flagstick. Jutanugarn chipped to within 8 feet of the flagstick and sank the par-saving putt. Yet Anderson was looking at a birdie. She circled the hole, surveying the green with her brother/caddie, Nathan, before stepping up and draining the match-winning putt.
“Coming in, I honestly felt like the underdog,” said Anderson, who faces another tough match with world No. 1 Lydia Ko, 15, of New Zealand, in Thursday’s second round. “I knew I would have to play my best. She’s a great, great player.”
For Jutanugarn, there will be no return trip to the final.
“That’s golf,” she said before walking away.
Ken Klavon is the USGA’s online editor. Email him at email@example.com.