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Murphy wins U.S. Open local qualifier

Bad news in the morning didn't turn into a bad day overall for Rogue River's Kevin Murphy on Monday, with the 19-year-old golfer running away from the field to place first in a 2014 U.S. Open local qualifier at Royal Oaks Country Club in Vancouver, Wash.

Murphy opened his round with four birdies on the front nine and added two more on the back against no bogeys to finish first out of 121 competitors with a 6-under-par 66. The top seven finishers automatically advanced to a Sectional qualifier on June 2, with two alternates also coming out of play at Royal Oaks CC.

Included in that top seven was Medford's Dylan Wu, who finished his round strong to tie for fourth place at 3 under. Wu is a senior standout on the St. Mary's High boys golf team.

"Considering how many pros are actually in this tournament," said Murphy, "it was pretty good for both of us to make it from the Rogue Valley."

Another local golfer hoping to qualify was Ashland High senior Matt Hedges, who was in contention until he made bogey on four of his final five holes to finish tied for 50th at 4-over 76.

For Murphy, the local qualifier was all about him being relaxed and proving his worth on the golf course. Earlier in the day, the Oregon State freshman learned that not only was his golf team not chosen for the NCAA championships, he also just missed out on making it as an individual.

"It kind of gave me a little bit of fire to play well," said Murphy, who was the Beavers' third-leading scorer and an all-Pac-12 Conference Freshman honorable mention selection. "It was just a real bummer that we couldn't make the postseason because I feel like our team was easily capable of doing that. Not making it gave me a little motivation to step up and take care of business."

Murphy played Royal Oaks CC last year and said he scored an 80 average so he certainly wasn't overconfident heading into Monday's round. A slight slump toward the end of his first season at Oregon State left him with the idea that he was better off taking a break entering the qualifier, and he spent only about an hour with a club in his hand on Sunday merely working on getting his tee shots to fit into the course's tight fairways.

He added a secret weapon with the addition of 18-year-old brother David Murphy on his bag as caddie, and a 6-foot par putt on the opening hole gave way to three straight birdies to start things off with a flurry.

"I feel like I always play well with him on my bag," said Murphy, who turns 20 on May 16. "We just had a nice relaxed time. He's pretty good at reading my putts and we just kinda have a really good chemistry together and know how to communicate with each other."

That tandem added another birdie on the par-4 ninth hole, and finished with birdies on the 14th and 18th holes to seal the bogey-free round. Murphy dropped in a 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole to end on a high note.

"I kinda knew that 4 under was going to be good enough to qualify," he said, "but I told David on the 11th hole that if I can get two more birdies it'll be pretty hard for me to screw it up. It took me a little longer to get them than I wanted but it's always good to end like that."

Those two extra birdies allowed Murphy to finish two strokes ahead of runners-up Paul Peterson and Brandon McIver, who each shot 68. Wu's 69 equaled that of Chris Babcock, with 2-under-par scores being shared by Patrick Nugent, Joel Skarbo and Ryann Ree for a sixth-place tie.

Casey Martin was among a group of four that finished with a 1-under 71 and will be a second alternate, while Nugent is the first alternate.

"I did everything pretty well today," added Murphy. "I obviously had a really good start and just kinda played solid from there. My putter was really solid and I made a lot of good birdie putts, three from outside 18 feet, and didn't have any three-putts."

Murphy's Oregon State teammates — David Fink and Alex Franklin — each were selected to play in the NCAA tourney but finished tied for 13th in the U.S. Open local qualifier at even-par 72.

Wu's round didn't start with as much fanfare as his golfing buddy Murphy but it certainly ended that way. The high school senior birdied the fifth hole but lost shots with bogey on hole Nos. 6 and 7. Instead of letting those holes get in the way, Wu refocused his energies and went on to birdie four of his final nine holes to close out a solid day in only his second time touring the course.

"I just told myself after those bogeys if I could get to 3 under then I knew I could make it," said Wu. "I played solid and felt like I hit good shots on the front nine, and the last couple weeks I've been finishing well, so I just tried to keep it going on the back nine."

Wu said a key to his round was getting up-and-down after going long on the par-3 12th hole about 30 yards to the left. When he rolled in a 20-footer for birdie on the next hole to go 1 under, Wu gained momentum and wound up chipping in for birdie on the par-3 16th from 6 yards off the green before rolling in a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th.

"I just wanted to stay calm and I just told myself after those two bogeys that I had another 12 holes left and I could still be in this thing and qualify," said Wu. "I still had confidence that even though I was struggling I was capable of coming back and finishing strong."

Murphy and Wu each expect to take part in the Sectional qualifier at Emerald Valley Golf Club in Creswell, one of 12 sites pegged by the United States Golf Association for entry into the U.S. Open.

"I love that course and I think I'll be a pretty good competitor in that tourney even though there's going to be a lot of good players there," said Murphy.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry