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Junior Class

Kevin Murphy is ready to give it another go in the American Junior Golf Association tournament at Centennial Golf Club.

Two years ago, Murphy, 16, and fresh off his freshman season for Rogue River High, was just beginning to make a name for himself when the national-circuit event rolled into the Rogue Valley.

It proved to be an eye-opener for him.

"I wasn't nearly as experienced or prepared for a tournament like that," he said. "It was something I wasn't used to. It's another level of golf. It was different playing with those guys."

Two years later, and with loads of rounds in big events under his belt, Murphy figures to be a contender when the AJGA returns Tuesday through Thursday at Centennial. A field of 144 boys and girls will tee off in the third annual tournament, a 54-hole stroke-play event. After the first two rounds, a cut to approximately half the field will be made.

Spectators are welcome. There is no admission charge, and pairings sheets and a map of the course are available at the tournament desk.

New champions will be crowned in the boys and girls divisions, for ages 12 to 18, as neither of last year's titlists, Skyler Finnell in the boys and Catherina Li in the girls, returns.

Murphy didn't compete here last year because he was in the Callaway Junior World Championships in La Jolla, Calif. His appearance there was part of a stellar summer — culminating with the men's regular title in the Southern Oregon Golf Championships — and helped earn him a scholarship offer to play for Oregon State. He recently gave the Beavers a verbal commitment.

In 2010 at Centennial, Murphy tied for 16th place at 2 over par. His final round was his best, a 1-under 71.

That year, George Cunningham shot a whopping 17 under par — including a course-record 64 — to win going away.

Murphy has yet to win an AJGA event, having tied for sixth in Patterson, Calif., in April. He also has an 11th-place tie, a tie for 21st at the Junior Worlds and a missed cut in the past year.

Since recovering from a broken ankle this winter, Murphy won the Class 3A/2A/1A state championship and has rounded his game into form, practicing every day and getting strong competition from Doug Quinones, a former Kansas player, who lives here. Quinones turned pro a week ago.

The two played Centennial on Thursday, and Murphy shot a 67 from the back tees. This despite a lost ball when his hard-hooking tee shot on the 15th hole found the hay left of the fairway.

Otherwise, he had eight birdies — five on the first seven holes — and further buoyed his confidence.

"I feel really prepared," said Murphy, who will be a senior. "I've been playing extremely well. If I'm playing well, I'll shoot in the 60s during the tournament. If I play great, hopefully I can sneak in my first AJGA win. I'm really excited."

It doesn't hurt that he'll be on a course with which he's familiar.

"It's always awesome to have tournaments at courses where you practice a lot," said Murphy. "I feel like it gives me a little advantage over the other players, having the course knowledge. You still have to have your head in the right place and stay focused and make good shots."

The course will play more than 7,000 yards, which suits Murphy and his strong long-iron play.

Of the 107 boys in the tournament, only 14 are from Oregon. They include Ramon Hedges, of Ashland, and Clayton Madey, of West Linn.

Madey is ranked 31st in the Polo Golf Rankings and will compete here for the third time. He has finished in the top 10 at two junior events this year, the Western Junior Championship and Goodman Networks Junior at Traditions, and will be a member of the West team at Wyndham Cup later this month.

Three of the 32 girls are in-state.

One of them is Caroline Inglis, of Eugene. She tied for fifth here last year.

The girl to beat may well be one coming across the U.S. Simin Feng, of Orlando, Fla., is ranked 51st and is seeking her fifth AJGA title.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email ttrower@mailtribune.com

Kevin Murphy hits from the edge of the green on the 16th hole.