OAKMONT, Pa. (AP) — Austin Greaser never had so much riding on the outcome of one match, and it was hard to ignore as he worked his way through hundreds of spectators walking alongside him, in front of him and behind him down the first hole at Oakmont on Saturday at the U.S. Amateur.
With two unlikely par saves at the start and a flawless four-hole stretch in the middle, Greaser handled all the stress and attention as if he had been there before.
Greaser capped off his big run with a driver that carried some 320 yards and onto the 14th green for a two-putt birdie, sending him to a 2-and-1 victory over Travis Vick and a spot in the championship match against James Piot.
"I’ve never had to maneuver through a crowd. I’ve never experienced anything like that," Greaser said. "I think I was nervous from start to finish today, most nervous I’ve ever been. It’s a new atmosphere for me. ... But I don’t think I’m ever going to feel not nervous when you’ve got this much on the line."
Greaser and Piot, who also had a big run in his 4-and-3 victory over Nick Grabelcik, earned spots in the Masters and U.S. Open by reaching the 36-hole championship match. The winner Sunday also gets into the 150th British Open at St. Andrews.
"Never thought I’d ever get there," Piot said about the Masters. "Today, knowing what’s on the line, a U.S. Open, I felt like this is the biggest match, just getting into that 36-hole final where anything can happen. Today you’ve just got to have your best game."
Both finalists delivered, capitalizing on mistakes by their opponents.
Greaser had not trailed on the back nine at Oakmont in four previous matches until Vick birdied the 10th hole to go 1 up. Greaser, an Ohio Amateur champion last year going into his junior year at North Carolina, responded with some of his best golf.
He birdied the next two holes. He his 9-iron safely onto the green at the par-3 13th and won the hole with a par. And then he drove the 14th green to win his fourth straight hole for a 3-up lead. That was enough to outlast Vick, who gave away too many holes by being out of position off the tee and on the super slick greens of Oakmont.
Vick tried to keep it close, winning the 15th with a par when Greaser hit two poor shots, and the par-3 16th when Greaser couldn’t save par from a bunker.
But on the reachable 17th, Vick pulled his drive into foot-long hay that was laying over. He couldn’t get that to the green, chipped 15 feet long, missed the par putt and conceded.
None of the last nine holes were halved.
"It stings when there’s something to play for, like the Masters, and you show up and don’t play your best golf," Vick said.
Greaser has yet to play the 18th hole in match play in five rounds. Equally important was his start. After driving into a bunker that left him unable to reach the first green, he flew a lob wedge toward the back pin to 6 feet and made par.
His drive on the short par-4 second hole sailed into the bushes right of the fairway. Greaser already had his driver out to measure two club lengths for a penalty drop when he realized that it wasn’t his golf ball buried under all that vegetation. He found his ball and was able to hack out short of the green. Using putter, he rolled it up to 5 feet and saved another par.
Before long, he was on his way.
Piot was scrappy as ever, having grown up on a public course complex in Michigan where it was not unusual to for him to play 72 holes in a day.
He dropped only two shots at Oakmont — the first hole that has given him fits all week, and the par-3 eighth with a soft chip from just over the green. Otherwise, he kept it in play off the tee and kept stress at a minimum, leaving the mistakes to Grabelcik.
The match was all square through eight holes when Grabelcik got in trouble off the tee at No. 9 and made double bogey. Grabelcik gave another hole away on the 10th with a long three-putt bogey, and Piot holed a 25-foot birdie putt on the 11th to start pulling away.
The clincher came at the 15th, when Piot found a bunker off the tee and had to lay up short of the green. He hit his third into 15 feet and holed the par putt, while Grabelcik went into a greenside bunker and couldn’t save par.
That ended a year of Grabelcik making a name for himself. As a freshman at North Florida, he won three times. In his first USGA championship, he reached the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur until a round where "I just didn’t have it today."
"I had a great week. I can’t complain — top four in my first U.S. Amateur," Grabelcik said. "Hopefully, I can roll this into my sophomore season."