MELBOURNE, Australia (January 7, 2017) -- When Charlie Dann dropped a 50cm par putt on the first playoff hole at Royal Melbourne, more than just the ball disappeared from view.
Dann, 24, buried a year of what-ifs after narrowly averting a second consecutive heart-breaking Australian Master of the Amateurs loss with a pulsating victory over Zach Murray.
The Queenslander, one of the most respected players on the Australian amateur scene, was hugged and backslapped by all after his dramatic win washed away the agony of his late collapse last year.
And, naturally, the overwhelming emotion after having watched his five-shot buffer with six holes to play whittled away was relief.
“That’s the perfect word for it,” an emotional Dann said after a six-hour finale in searing heat on desperately quick greens.
“That was the hardest round of golf I’ve played. And probably on some of the hardest greens anywhere in the world.
“For me to get through it with my rough patch in the middle was just a massive relief.”
Dann, who made three bogeys to close last year and finish third after leading, made a four-putt double-bogey on the fifth hole that eroded his lead.
But rare birdies on the seventh and eighth, followed by another on the par-five 12th, reinstated the lead with which he’d begun the final round.
But, as ever at Royal Melbourne, the kick is in the final few holes and another double on the short 13th was followed by a three-putt bogey on the 14th and four shots from the fringe for another bogey on the 15th.
Murray, the 2015 champ who started the round seven behind, made birdie on the 15th to briefly lead, but a bogey on the tough 16th. He then heard the roar as fellow Victorian Cameron John made a huge eagle putt on the 15th and suddenly there was a three-way tie.
John’s bogey on the 16th was hurtful, but his wayward drive right on 17th was his death knell en route to a double-bogey before an anguished nine up the last unjustly took his name off the leaderboard.
But Dann and Murray each parred the last two treacherous holes to set up a playoff on the 18th.
From 193m with a six-iron, Dann’s approach rolled back from brink on the back fringe and finished 5m from the cup.
On the same line but closer, Murray hit almost the same shot, but watched in disbelief as his ball trickled over the precipice and into the back sand from which a bogey was the best he could muster.
Dann duly lagged down his birdie putt and then made good on the winner to earn himself entries to a fistful of international events this year, including the British Amateur, Porter Cup, Dogwood Invitational and Canadian Amateur.
“I wasn’t liking where it was going on 15, but all week I knew the last three holes were what it would come down to and I’m glad I knuckled down and got it going again,” said Dann, who modestly talked down his progress from a year ago, but admitted his mental game was in a different ballpark now.
“All the guys here can hit that shot probably, but in the last year, the belief I have to hit it (when it counts now) is something I’m very happy with.
“To be fair, I wasn’t super disappointed last year because I’m a guy who doesn’t get too down on himself and I had an absolute ball.
“This year is another good feeling, but it’s just 10 times better now.
“I have a lot of goals for a lot of American tournaments this year and hopefully this will open a couple of doors … I’ve just got to find a money tree to get there now and who knows?”
Dann was typically humble in assessing how far he’d progressed in a year.
“This means what I’ve done in a year, and back past that, my progression is backing up my age to getting better and better each year. I think I’ve done that over the last few years.
“To me, the green jacket will be recognition of my last year of golf. And a love affair with Royal Melbourne.”
Murray, 19, was effusive in his praise of good mate Dann.
“That’s a fantastic result, for both of us, really,” Murray said. I started so far back and with seven shots to make up, all I wanted was to give myself a chance and that’s the best I’ve played all week and in a long while. I just had too much to make up on Charlie who was superb all week, kept it together really well and he’s a great bloke, so I’m happy for him.”
Murray, of Wodonga, suffered a nasty hand injury in mid-2015 and has battle for full fitness and belief until recently.
But with AFL legend Jason Akermanis on his bag, Murray looked much like the dominant force he was shaping to be 18 months ago.
“It’s a weird feeling because I hit two really good shots there (in the playoff) and I was four feet from being exactly where Charlie was.
“But golf is a game of inches, not feet, so you’ve got to be spot on and unfortunately my bounce was marginally bigger than I thought, but that’s OK.
“I’m disappointed, but not angry at myself at all because I played really well.
“It’s been a long way back. A little injury like I had, it makes you wonder how far back it can set you. But physically and mentally, it got me.
“But it was a different feeling out here again today and I felt like I could hit any shot in the book, that my game was finally in really good shape again.”
“So I’m excited for the Aussie Am … it feels like I can compete every week again.”
Queenslander Shae Wools-Cobb threatened at times today, but had no luck with his putter and agonisingly watched five lip-outs cost him a chance.
He slid back late to finish T3 with New Zealand’s Ryan Chisnall at three under, five back from the playoff contenders.
Austin Bautista played his third consecutive sub-par round to finish fifth, while fellow New South Welshmen Dylan Perry and James Grierson tied American Shintaro Ban for sixth as the only players under par at -1.