Eason leads 64 and ties into match-play stage
Englishman Gregory Eason has finished at the top of the leaderboard at the conclusion of the stroke play qualifying stage of the 2011 Amateur Championship. The 18-year-old from Leicester produced a three-under-par 68 at Hesketh Golf Club, adding to yesterday’s 71 at Hillside, for a four-under-par total of 139.
“I’m looking forward to the match play,” said Eason, who studies at the University of Central Florida. “Hillside is fantastic; it’s one of the toughest courses I’ve ever played. I hardly get to play any match play in the States, but I’m going to approach it in the same way. If I play as well as I have done, I’ll be okay.”
Wales’ Alastair Jones signed for a three-under-par 68, at Hesketh, to finish qualifying in second place. The Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup squad member reached a two-round total of 140, enough to finish at three under par.
“Everyone’s just trying to qualify for the match-play stage, but it obviously gives you some confidence performing well in the stroke play,” said Jones, who used driver just once today on his way to 68. “I’ll certainly be more aggressive in the match play tomorrow. A double-bogey in the qualifying rounds can ruin your chances, but from now on, it’s just one hole.”
One shot back from Jones after a 69 at Hillside was England’s Steven Brown, who was beaten in the first round of match play at Formby in the 2009 Amateur by eventual winner Matteo Manassero.
“I love this place. It’s a real pleasure to play here,” said Brown. “If I keep playing the way I am, I’ve got a good chance against anyone.”
A further stroke back was reigning Boys Amateur Champion Adrian Otaegui, who joined a raft of players on 142, one under par. This week, he is attempting to emulate his compatriots Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal in adding the Amateur Championship to his Boys Amateur title.
“I am very far away from thinking about winning,” said the Spaniard. “I am playing well, yes, but I am not thinking about that yet. One day at a time.”
Another Walker Cup squad member Michael Stewart is also safely through to the knockout stages after a one over par 72 at Hesketh. The Scot will approach the match play with confidence, as he attempts to claim the amateur season’s biggest prize.
“There’s something about match play for me,” he explained. “I’ve got grit and I never give in. Even if I’m down, I still think I’m going to win.
“This and the US Amateur are the two most important events in the calendar. If you win the Amateur Championship, it’s life-changing.”
In addition to the Amateur Championship Trophy, this week’s winner will earn a place in the 2011 Open Championship at Royal St George’s and an invitation to the 2012 Masters Tournament at Augusta National.
The round-of-the-day at Hillside was produced by England’s Jack Bartlett, who, after opening with a bogey, made five birdies in the following, blemish-free 17 holes for a four-under-par 68. Four-under-par also led the way at Hesketh, with France’s Victor Perez, Englishman Patrick Spraggs and Max Rottluff of Germany all signing for 67s.
High-profile players, who failed to progress, included last year’s runner-up James Byrne, 2009 Walker Cup player Stiggy Hodgson and rising Italian star Domenico Geminiani.
Full hole-by-hole scores, along with tomorrow’s draw, can be found here. Play gets underway tomorrow at 8.00am, with a preliminary match play round to determine the last 64.