Kraft Wins U.S. Amateur

Kelly Kraft of Ryan, Texas, survived a tough golf course and a gritty opponent to win the 111th U.S. Amateur. Kraft, a three-time Conference USA Player of the Year who completed his eligibility at Southern Methodist University this year, edged Patrick Cantlay of Los Alamitos, Calif., in the 36-hole championship match 2-up.

Unless he turns pro, which is likely, the victory for Kraft means he has an automatic entry into next year's Masters and the British Open. Regardless, the winner of the 2011 Trans-Mississippi Championship will get his name etched onto the Havemayer Trophy alongside such luminaries as Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.

After Cantlay took a 1-up lead on the first hole, Kraft got it back to all-square on the fourth. Kraft then went 1-up on the sixth. Cantlay, the 2011 NCAA Division I Player and Freshman of the Year who finished as the low amateur at the U.S. Open, shot 60 en route to a 26th-place finish at the PGA Tour's Travelers Championship and was in the top 25 at the AT&T National and the RBC Canadian Open, got the match back to even on No. 7, but Kraft went ahead on the ninth and, after getting to 4-up on the 16th hole after a birdie on the par-2, was 2-up at the lunch break.

In the afternoon 18, Kraft frittered away the lead and the match went back to all-square on the 236-yard, par-3 sixth, the 24th hole of the match. After both parred the 617-yard, par-5 seventh (the 25th), Kraft again took the lead on the eighth with a par. But Cantlay birdied the 134-yard, par-3 ninth to make it even again. Cantlay then took a 1-up lead on the par-4 10th, and kept it there until the 13th, which Kraft birdied to Cantlay's par.

Cantlay took the lead in the tight match right back on the 32nd hole, but he bogeyed the 15th for the second time Sunday. A second straight bogey by Cantlay on the 34th hole gave Kraft a lead he'd never relinquish.

After both parred the 509-yard par-4 35th, Cantlay needed a win on the brutal 657-yard 18th to extend the match to extra holes. But both players found bunkers off the tee. From his lie near the lip, Cantlay could only blast back out to the fairway, 247 yards from the green. Kraft knocked his 9-iron safely back to the short grass, but still 215 yards out.

With a hybrid, Cantlay hit his third 30 yards short of the green, while Kraft put his 5-iron approach into a greenside bunker left of the green. Cantlay hit a lofted shot onto the putting surface, but it was 20 feet short of the cup. Kraft then hit a sand wedge to about 5 feet. After Cantlay missed his par attempt, he conceded the hole - and the win - to his opponent.

It was the first championship final to go 36 holes since 2004, when Ryan Moore got by Luke List 2-up at Winged Foot.

The gallery cheered loudly when Kraft secured the victory. The most boisterous segment of the crowd were friends and family of Kraft's who had flown up from Texas to support the SMU grad, who became the third Mustang to win a U.S. Amateur crown in the last 14 years (joining Hank Kuehne - 1998 - and Colt Knost - 2007).

"That's awesome," Kraft told a reporter at greenside of the rousing ovation he received. "I can't thank (my supporters) enough."

As for whether he'll take advantage of all the perks that come to the U.S. Amateur champion, or turn pro, he added, "I'm going to think about that pretty hard."

Kraft later told reporters, "I'm going to have to see how long I can stay amateur for because I don't get (the entitlements) if I turn pro. But I mean that's just great. I tried not to think about it too much yesterday. You know, I just tried to finish today. And now I can think about it all for a while."

Cantlay, who during much of the championship had shown a preternatural calm, seemed rattled over the final holes. "I'm pretty disappointed," he told a TV reporter. He owed his downfall to difficulties on the 15th and 16th holes. In the final match he bogeyed the par-4 15th twice and bogeyed the 197-yard, par-3 16th in the afternoon to reach a deficit from which he couldn't recover.

"I blew the tournament right there," he said in reference to those two holes, "both in the morning and in the afternoon."

It was the second straight year the 19-year-old student at UCLA ended up disappointed in the U.S. Amateur. Last year at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash., Cantlay lost 4 and 3 to David Chung in the semifinals.

Cantlay later told reporters, "I went 5 and 1 this week. I think that's not too bad. Going into the Walker Cup [where he'll be teammates with Kraft], I feel confident about my game and feel really good about the team we have."

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