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NCGA Amateur: Thornberry is 103rd Champion

PEBBLE BEACH, CA (August 18, 2006)--Ryan Thornberry gave himself an early graduation present Friday.

With a 2 and 1 victory over Eddie Olson, the 22-year-old became the 103rd champion in the NCGA Amateur's glorious history. Thornberry's win represents just the fourth time the medalist has won since stroke-play qualifying was reinstituted (1985), and the second year in a row (Olson was medalist and champion in 2005).

From the first two rounds of stroke-play qualifying, Thornberry was a step ahead of the rest of the field. A 139 two-round qualifying total earned him the No.1 seed heading into match play. The River Oaks member continued his stellar play and was in the driver's seat in all four matches he played heading into the finals, highlighted by a 4 and 2 victory over NCGA Player of the Year Bob Niger in the quarterfinals, and an efficient 5 and 3 victory over Matt Montez in the semifinals.

Thornberry wasted no time taking control of the final match against defending champion Olson, establishing an early lead on the first hole Friday morning with a birdie and ensuing birdies on Nos. 3 and 6. The California State University - Stanislaus student gradually added to that lead thanks to precision ball striking and reliable putting. Thornberry calls Spyglass "one of my two favorite courses" and was fittingly comfortable on the treacherous 6,938-yard layout.

After the morning 18, Thornberry held a 2-up advantage. Olson evened the match quickly in the afternoon, making birdie on Nos. 2 and 5, and looked primed to build on his momentum after splitting the fairway on the tough, 446-yard, par-4 sixth hole. A loose approach shot left him a tricky 50-foot putt from the left side of the green. Three putts later Olson had squandered his good feelings and given Thornberry a lead he would not relinquish. Bogeys on the following three holes coupled with a birdie on No. 10 by Thornberry, put the match almost out of reach.

"That bad stretch ruined my chances," Olson said after the round. "I was feeling good over the ball and I let things get away from me."

While Olson displayed a more aggressive style hitting driver off of most tees and going for par 5s in two, Thornberry was the model of control and consistency throughout.

"I putted really well all week," admitted Thornberry. "I probably hit the ball better than I normally do. I hadn't won a tournament in awhile and in my mind I knew it was coming. This is a huge confidence boost for me to defeat so many talented guys."

Heading into the championship Olson was the clear-cut favorite. Coming off a seventh place finish at the Pacific Coast Amateur Championship in early August and armed with a year of collegiate experience at UNLV, the Aptos resident had his sights set on becoming the first back-to-back NCGA Amateur champion since Randy Haag in 1992-93.

"There is nothing worse than coming in second," Olson said. "I didn't apply any pressure early and I let Ryan cruise."

For the second straight year, Olson headed for the airport immediately after the finals to participate in the U.S. Amateur. While Olson takes his game to the national stage, Thornberry is staying close to home to compete at the State Fair Championship before returning to Stanislaus for a final semester. With no eligibility left, the four-time collegiate All-American will return to school as an assistant coach while he finishes classes. After graduation in December, he aspires to play golf professionally.

For complete match tree results, click on the tournament link above.
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