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Fernandez de Oliveira rebounds to win Azalea Invite in playoff
- Mateo Fernandez de Oliveira (CC of Charleston photo)
- Mateo Fernandez de Oliveira (CC of Charleston photo)

Mateo Fernandez de Oliveira defeated Jamie Wilson on the first playoff hole to win the Azalea Invitational at the Country Club of Charleston (S.C.).

Fernandez de Oliveira, a TCU sophomore, and Wilson, a graduate student in his final year of eligibility at the University of South Carolina, found themselves in a sudden-death playoff after an eventful final round that featured several lead changes and many players in contention.

On the playoff hole, Wilson caught a flier that bounded over the green into the water, leaving Fernandez de Oliveira to just two putt for the win.

"It means a lot for me and my confidence," said the champion to AmateurGolf.com. "It is my first amateur win in the U.S. and now I know I can win." The Argentinian has been trending, with runner-up finishes in the South American Amateur this year and last year's Argentine Amateur, in addition to a final 16 finish at the U.S. Amateur at Bandon Dunes.

Stephen Behr took the lead into the final round on the strength of three straight rounds of 3-under 68.

Behr, a former second-team All-American and Byron Nelson Award winner at Clemson University, was the stroke play medalist at the 2018 U.S. Mid-Amateur, making the final 16 of match play at Charlotte Country Club.

He has played well of late, making the cut twice against the pros in the PGA Tour LOCALiQ Series, finishing 6th in the Alpharetta Classic.

Fernandez de Oliveira was two shots back to start the day but caught and passed Behr thanks to a pair of two-shot swings on the 5th and 8th holes.

Behr continued his tumble with bogeys at the 9th and 10th, which gave Fernandez de Oliveira a three-shot lead heading into CC of Charleston's famous par-3 11th hole. The reverse-redan tabletop par-3 which Ben Hogan famously recommended blowing up is the one hole on the course that can really destroy a scorecard in any round.

Fernandez de Oliveira made bogey at the 11th which shouldn't have been too damaging, but when he also dropped shots at the short par-4 12th and 13th, he found himself in a tie with Wilson, playing one group ahead.

"The bogeys on 11-13 were a little weird," said Fernandez de Oliveira. "On 11 I missed a 6-footer for par. On 12 I hit the pin from 115 yards that took the ball off the green and I couldn't get up and down. Then on 13 I three-putted." But he said was able to stay confident through that stretch, because he felt committed to his game plan and understood that this was the kind of course where those things can easily happen.

Wilson's teammate Ryan Hall made it a temporary three-way lead with a birdie on the par-3 17th hole, but Fernandez de Oliveira regained the lead with a birdie at the par-5 15th. Hall would bogey the difficult final hole, but when Wilson birdied it, he was in clubhouse at 7 under par with Fernandez de Oliveira at that same number on the 17th hole.

The Argentinian rolled in a birdie, taking the lead again heading to the 18th, but an untimely bogey sent him to the playoff before finding redemption one hole later.

"18 is a hard hole," he said. "Nerves always play their role, and today I missed my driver and it was hard from there to make par. [But] the playoff was good. I did what I needed to do."

Hall (68) and Behr (75) finished tied for third at 5 under, two shots back.

U.S. Amateur champion Tyler Strafaci, who no doubt will return to the Country Club of Charleston in the spring to prepare for the 2021 Masters, suffered a poor start for the second straight round. Leading by one after 36 holes, Strafaci dropped four shots over his first six holes in round three, and today he bogeyed each of the first four holes to fall out of contention.

Strafaci was looking to extend his winning streak in major amateur tournaments to four, having already won the North & South, Palmetto and U.S. Amateurs in his last three stars. But a 76 saw him drop into a T12 finish at 2 under.

The round of the day belonged to Matthias Schmid, the Louisville senior from Germany. The two-time reigning European Amateur champion registered a bogey-free 6-under 65 to get into a fifth-place tie with Keller Harper (68) and U.S. Amateur semifinalist Matthew Sharpstene (72).

With a rescheduled Masters coming in two weeks' time, three players were using the Azalea as a final tune-up.

Related: Despite COVID, the Azalea retains its role as Masters tune-up

Yuxin Lin of China (and Southern Cal), the reigning Asia-Pacific Amateur champion, shot a final-round 70 to finish tied for 8th at 3 under. Abel Gallegos of Argentina, who won the Latin America Amateur to start the year, tied for 39th at 6 over.

Lukas Michel of Australia, who became the first international winner of the U.S. Mid-Amateur last fall, heads to Augusta after finishing T30 at 5 over par.

2015 Azalea champion Todd White (2015) finished 59th at 13 over.

Results: Azalea Invitational
1ArgentinaMateo Fernandez de OliveiraArgentina100071-69-66-71=277
2SCJamie WilsonMt. Pleasant, SC70074-64-70-69=277
T3TNRyan HallKnoxville, TN50071-68-72-68=279
T3SCStephen BehrFlorence, SC50068-68-68-75=279
T5GermanyMatthias SchmidGermany50072-71-72-65=280

View full results for Azalea Invitational

ABOUT THE Azalea Invitational

72 hole stroke play with a 54 hole cut on a 1925 Seth Raynor design. Good mix of college players, juniors and mid amateurs. 7 spots available in a qualifier. Impressive list of past champions at this traditional event. Reigning USGA champs often use this tournament as a tune-up for the Masters.

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