It's often remarked that anything can happen in match play and Ethan Tracy's 1-up victory over Patrick Cantlay at the Western Amateur in Chicago, proves this.
Cantlay was the top-ranked amateur golfer in the world entering the championship match Saturday at North Shore Country Club in Glenview.
Aa sophomore at UCLA, Cantlay was the low amateur at the US Open in June and had finished among the top 25 in four PGA Tour events this season where he's yet to miss a cut in any PGA Tour event he's entered. In contrast, Tracy's best efforts this summer was an eighth-place finish in the Ohio Amateur.
In a classic display of pure determination and course management Tracy, a senior at Arkansas, took the lead for good at the 13th hole and protected it the rest of the way for a 1-up victory. Even a wayward tee shot in the 18th would not damage his chances of claiming his first main amateur title in the US.
"I hit one of my worst drives of the day on the final hole into the left rough, pitched out and was fortunate enough to get the putt," said an elated Tracy after the championship match.
"This tournament is a big grind, you get drained mentally and physically, it's a lot of golf. My short game got me across the line. I got up and down every time since the first day and my ball striking was pure all week here."
The final was an evening contested affair. Tracy won the 13th hole with a 20-foot birdie putt and never trailed again, but extra holes seemed likely after his tee shot at the 18th sailed far left, leaving him a second shot with a tree five feet in front of him and in direct line to the green.
"I played the smart shot out to the fairway," commented Tracy.
"I was just fortunate enough to read it right and put a good stroke on it. Sure I was a little nervous, so I was glad to see it go in."
Neither player held more than a 1-up lead at any point in the final match, and both played the last eight holes in 3 under par.
Cantlay, who advanced from a two-man playoff to secure the 16th and final spot in the match-play field on Friday, never really seemed to have his "A" game with him this week in Chicago. Throughout the final he continued to struggle with his putter and the speed of the greens.
"I just didn't play all that great this afternoon," said Cantlay, a semifinalist at last year's US Amateur and one of four players named this past week to be included in the US Walker Cup team.
"I never really had a stretch where I felt comfortable, especially with the putter.I was fortunate enough to squeak into match play, and I've won two matches. I just did not play that well out there today the greens got a little slow and nothing went in."
Tracy entered the Western Amateur ranked 170th in the world. Along the way he accounted for some of the best amateur golfers in the world including the world number 3 ranked player Jordan Spieth, the number 23rd ranked player Cheng-Tsung Pan and number 25, Derek Ernst.
Originally from Ohio, Tracy attends Arkansas State and joins John Daly among the their most accomplished golfers.
The victory is enormous for Tracy who's ranking has since the win climbed to 48th and to the victor go the spoils.
"I can truly say that I am absolutely drained from that round," said Tracey.
"This tournament is so unbelievable. I had a great feel out there on the course this week and at this tournament something changed. I'm just so relieved to have won an event like this."
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