JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Denny McCarthy is usually a player that gets off to a quick start in match play.
Thursday afternoon, he saved his best stuff for last.
McCarthy uncharacteristically fell behind early as his Round-of-16 opponent, Eli Cole of Los Angeles, won three of the first five holes. But McCarthy heated up late, making his move on Atlanta Athletic Club’s most demanding holes, Nos. 14-18, and ultimately punching his quarterfinals ticket with a 1-up victory.
“The last couple (of) holes . . . it’s a blur to me now,” said McCarthy, a Rockville, Md., native.
After going 3 down through 13 holes, McCarthy began his comeback on the par-4 14th. Yet, it was the 16th hole that McCarthy said was the real kicker in turning his match around.
U.S. Golf Association officials moved up the tee box at No. 14 Thursday so players could use driver to carry some traps hanging out in the hole’s typical landing zone. According to his measuring device, it was a 300-yard carry, McCarthy said.
“I’ve been hitting my driver pretty good all week and I knew I could carry those pretty easily,” the 21-year-old said. “So I just picked an aggressive line with my driver and just swung away at it.”
After hitting his 60-degree wedge to 10 feet, he sank the downhill birdie putt to keep the pressure on Cole.
After exchanging pars at the 207-yard 17th, McCarthy and Cole came to No. 18 at all square.
McCarthy sank a par putt at the finishing hole just before Cole, a recent graduate of TCU, missed his 5-footer for chance to extend the match.
“It’s not really playing the opponent,” McCarthy said. “You’re really playing the golf course, especially with the last four holes out here, it’s all against the golf course. Pars are going to be a good score.”
McCarthy played his final four holes in 1 under compared to Cole’s 3-over performance.
For the six-time U.S. Amateur participant, this is McCarthy’s first time past the Round of 64 after three heartbreaking loses in 2010-12. Most recently, he fell to former California standout Brandon Hagy in 19 holes after being 2 up with two holes to play.
“When I won the first match here, it was like a monkey off the back a little bit,” McCarthy said. “But I’m really just focused on my game and just focused on my next match.”
McCarthy can lean on his experience from his 2010 U.S. Junior Amateur semifinal appearance and his play at the Maryland Amateur to help him get through his quarterfinals match against Roman Robledo of Harlingen, Texas, who took down big-time players in Robby Shelton and Bryson Dechambeau on Thursday.
Sixth times a charm, right?