Sydney sensation Jeffrey Guan is into the quarter-finals of the US Junior Amateur at Brandon Dunes in Oregon following a pair of exhilarating wins on Thursday.
Guan, who is the two-time reigning Australian Junior Amateur champion, fought back from a two-hole deficit after 12 holes to win his round of 32 match against number five seed Nicholas Gross 1-up before defeating another American Charlie Palmer 5&4 in the afternoon.
He is now three wins away from becoming the second ever Australian – after Min Woo Lee in 2016 – to claim the title Tiger Woods famously won three consecutive times from 1991 to 1993.
“I am really excited (to be in the quarter-finals),” Guan said.
“I think the target for me this week was to make the top 64 and then focus on every match if I did make it. I did just that today. Yeah, it was a tight finish for the first round early this morning. I played against seed No. 5, and I think I only won 1-up. But that gave me a lot of momentum after beating him and utilising that on the course this arvo.”
Guan made an excellent start to his day with a birdie and a par to begin his match with Gross gaining him a two-hole lead, but the momentum quickly flipped in the American’s favour as he won the next three holes with a birdie-birdie-par run.
Another birdie to Gross at the seventh put him two-up and the next five holes had the pair locked in an arm wrestle until the Australian was able to kick his comeback into gear.
Like he did during the final round of his Australian Junior Amateur triumph at the Vines of Reynella in April, Guan reached a new level when others mounted a serious challenge and this time it came in the form of back-to-back birdies at the 13th and 14th to level things up.
The ascendancy was with Guan for the first time since the third hole when he made another birdie at the 16th and he did not relinquish his advantage from there as he came up clutch to match Gross’ par and birdie at the closing holes.
His momentum from that six hole stretch carried into his contest with Palmer as he made eight birdies in 14 holes to seize control.
A birdie at the first was offset by a triple bogey at the second to even things up, but from then on Guan would only lose one hole – the 549-yard par-5 13th where his birdie was bettered by an eagle from Palmer.
At that point, Guan was six-up after a birdie at the third, a hat-trick of birdies at the sixth, seventh and eighth, a birdie at the 11th and a par at the 12th.
“6, the par-3, I hit like a 4-iron and I was just trying to aim it down the centre of the green, take the right side out of play, and the ball managed to just feed up about 20 feet from the hole. I had two putts to win, then the ball just miraculously went in the hole,” Guan said.
“Then the next hole I hit 3-wood down the middle and then hit a really good wedge shot inside like four feet and then holed that putt for birdie.
“Then on 8, I hit driver just short of the green and chipped it to about 10 feet and then holed that one for birdie, as well.”
A par at the 14th closed out the match and booked a quarter-final showdown with American number 45 seed Eric Lee where Guan is eager to keep upping his game.
“I do find that competition here is very strong, and everyone is really aggressive. It’s just really good to see how you can be good at stroke play and match play here, and it doesn’t really matter what seed I would say in match play today or this week,” he said.
“It’s like, if you make your birdies, you’re going to win your match. I think that experience gets me even more focused than I am, and know there’s a lot of people out there doing the same thing as me, and I need to work hard and stick to my game.”