MIDWAY — T.J. Vogel took things down to the wire in match play three times this week to advance to the next stage at the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship.
If his play in the final Saturday is any indication, the University of Florida senior must have grown tired of seeing victories hinge on the final hole.
Vogel made six birdies over a seven-hole stretch and coasted to a 12-and-10 win over Kevin Aylwin, earning him a spot in the 2013 Masters field.
“It’s too surreal now to think I’ll be playing in the Masters,” Vogel said. “Once I get that invitation, it will hit me.”
Vogel seized control during the first 18 holes in the morning, with birdies on the second and fourth to go 3 up. Aylwin bogeyed the first, sixth and eighth to drop back even further and never quite settled into a groove after those three holes.
After going 5 up on the front nine, Vogel unleashed a flurry after the turn with birdies on the 12th, 13th and 14th holes. He closed with another three in a row to move 10 up at the conclusion of the morning session of match play.
A rainstorm at the start of the afternoon session did nothing to halt Vogel’s momentum. Fittingly, he clinched the win with another birdie on the eighth hole. Vogel either made par or sank a birdie on all 26 holes he played. He finished with a total of 10 birdies.
Aylwin hoped to turn the tide in the afternoon, but he also realized it was an uphill climb to get back into contention.
“I was just trying to stay out there as long as I could,” Aylwin said.
Vogel credited his driving ability with being the difference maker on those holes. He drove the ball well off the tee and his wedge play was nearly perfect. It left Vogel with plenty of opportunities to chip in for birdie from short distances.
Even while battling his own perfectionist tendencies, Vogel said he played strong golf all week at Soldier Hollow. He felt he had good numbers all week and his confidence grew with each shot he hit.
“I felt like I could carry the weight of the world on my shoulders this week,” Vogel said. “That’s how confident I felt with my game.”
• LANGER LEADS U.S. SENIOR OPEN BY 4 SHOTS: At Lake Orion, Mich., Fred Couples joked that someone will have to close with a 60 to catch Bernhard Langer at the U.S. Senior Open.
That might not be low enough.
Langer shot a 6-under 64 on Saturday to move to 10 under for the tournament, putting him ahead of a big-name field by four strokes.
“That’s not a huge lead,” he insisted. “That can disappear in no time. I’m going to have to get out there and shoot under par. That’s my goal.
“If I go 2 under or 3 under, it will be very difficult for anyone to catch me. And if they do, they deserve to win.”
The two-time Masters champion opened with three straight birdies and eight in 12 holes at Indianwood, a course with tight and unforgiving fairways and undulating greens.
“He didn’t win two Masters by luck,” said Corey Pavin, who was in a five-way tie for second place. “He’s an exceptionally good player, very methodical.”
Langer didn’t miss a green in regulation during the third round until the par-3 No. 13, where a double bogey cut his cushion to three shots. He bounced back with a birdie at 15 before giving that stroke back with a bogey at 18.
Pavin, Tom Lehman, Roger Chapman, John Huston and Tom Pernice Jr. were at 6-under 204.
Couples surged up the leaderboard with a 65 after starting the day tied for 25th place. He was part of a pack — along with Fred Funk and Jay Haas — that was five shots back in a tie for seventh at the Champion Tour’s fourth of five majors.
• STRICKER CHASING MATTESON AT JOHN DEERE: At Silvis, Ill., Troy Matteson shot a 5-under 66 Saturday to take a three-shot lead into the final round at the John Deere Classic.
Steve Stricker, who also shot a 66, sits in second place at 15 under in his quest for a fourth straight tournament title. Stricker birdied four straight holes beginning at the 14th, but bogeyed the par-4 18th, stubbing a chip shot and missing a 15-footer for par.
Both Matteson and Stricker bogeyed the last hole, setting up their final-round pairing together at TPC Deere Run, where Stricker, a Wisconsin native who was an all-American at Illinois, has become a local favorite by winning the last three years.
Former Masters champion Zach Johnson also carded a 66 to climb into contention at 14 under, along with left-hander Brian Harman.
Billy Hurley, J.J. Henry and 2006 champion John Senden are tied for fifth, five strokes behind. Hurley’s 64 matched the best round of the day, while Senden eagled the par-5 second hole en route to a bogey-free 67.
“It’s great for me if I win,” said Matteson. “If Stricker wins, it’s a really big story.”
Stricker is attempting to join Tom Morris Jr., Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen and Tiger Woods as a winner four straight times in the same tournament. Woods has accomplished the feat twice.
“I can’t even believe three years have gone by,” said Stricker, who was five strokes behind Matteson at one point during the back nine.