PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Aug. 12, 2007)-- Raj Nahal defeated Chris Kennedy 1-up in the final match to win the 16th Amateur Match Play Championship at Sawgrass Country Club in Ponte Vedra Beach on August 9-12.
After wining five matches each, Nahal, of Eustis, and Kennedy, from Bradenton, met in the finals of the 2007 Championship.
"I was excited to play Chris since I knew him from junior golf," said Nahal. "I knew it was going to be a good match."
Nahal, 19, a University of South Florida sophomore, took an early lead after making birdie on the second hole.
"I made double on that hole twice this week so I just played it safe and hit the ball in the middle of the green," said Nahal. "That gave me a lot of confidence."
Kennedy, an incoming freshman at University of North Florida, brought the match back to even with a par on #3. Nahal birdied the 5th hole and made par on the 6th hole to go 2-up.
"I was just hitting the ball well and putting it in the fairway," said Nahal.
The match was all square after Kennedy birdied holes seven and 11. Nahal then went 2-up after Kennedy couldn't get up and down and made two consecutive bogeys on holes 15 and 16. Nahal stuck to his game plan of "making pars and letting my opponent make the mistakes."
Kennedy narrowed the gap to one winning the 17th hole. On 18, Kennedy's 15-foot birdie putt lipped out to give Nahal his first State Championship. "It was a grind," said Nahal. "I've been working hard this summer so this feels great." Recently, Nahal finished second in the Orlando City Amateur.
It was a long, hot week of an 18-hole seeding round and two rounds of match play each day.
"With every match, I got smarter," said Nahal. "I learned to play the person not stroke play."
Nahal earned the 12th seed after posting even par in the seeding round. In the first round of match play, Nahal knocked off 2006 Mid-Amateur Champion Bret Voisin, of Orlando, 6 & 4. He went on to beat Benjamin Perdue, of Chipley, in the round of 32 and then edged out two-time State Champion Kevin Aylwin, of New Smyrna Beach, in the round of 16 in 19 holes.
"It was a really good match," said Nahal. "I was down early but started making some putts to pull through."
In the quarters, Nahal was 1-up after nine holes and continued on to win three consecutive holes to beat Christian Blanchet, of Gainesville, 5 & 4. In his semi-final match versus Florida State University golfer Nicholas Smith, of Ocala, Nahal won 1-up securing his spot in the finals. On the 18th hole, Smith hit his ball into the water to allow Nahal to close out the match.
"I just played consistently and let him make the mistake," said Nahal. "It was a pretty stressful week, It was fun; I like match play."
Since the number of entries received has always surpassed the capacity of the Championship, a qualifying stage was instituted this year. In the qualifying, players competed in 18 holes of stroke play in hopes of reaching the Championship at Sawgrass. The Match Play Championship began with an 18-hole seeding round to seed the 64 player field. Single elimination match play followed to determine the Match Play Champion.
--Story courtesy FSGA