Teenager impresses in Nationwide field

16-year-old Grayson Murray shoots a 66 to make the cut.

Staff writerMay 22, 2010 

— Never mind that he's the only amateur in a field of professionals.

Never mind that he's also the youngest player in the field, just 16 years old and a high school sophomore.

On Friday, Raleigh's Grayson Murray carved out a spot for himself in Rex Hospital Open history while all but upstaging the leaders at TPC Wakefield. Followed by a host of family members, friends and impressed onlookers, he shot a 5-under-par 66 that made him the second-youngest player to make the cut in a Nationwide Tour event.

"It was fun," Murray said, breaking into a big smile. "I had a blast."

The second-round leader was John Riegger, who was 30 and playing the PGA Tour in 1993, the year Murray was born. With a 7-under 64, he had a 12-under 130 total and a two-shot lead over Chris Nallen.

But if Riegger was the leader, The Kid was the story.

"There are so many good players all over the world," Riegger said. "It doesn't matter if you're 16 or 60, golf doesn't know any age."

Murray, the state 4-A champion at Leesville Road High, had an eagle and six birdies. He made a late run, with birdies on five of his last seven holes.

That's strong stuff - at any age. At 3-under 139, he made the cut on the number.

"Nice," said Chris Kirk, one of the tour's leading money winners. "I wouldn't have done that well at 16. I'd have finished last."

Murray, the top-rated junior in the Carolinas, has committed to play college golf at Wake Forest. He's proudly wearing a black cap with the "WF" logo this week and has a Demon Deacons headcover.

Ron Whittaker, 38, once played for Wake. The first alternate into the Rex field, the Raleigh native had a 67 on Friday and was tied for third at 134, but he was left shaking his head over the teenager.

"When I was 16, I was mowing lawns and just getting my driver's license," Whittaker said.

Gipper Finau was 16 years and 20 days old when he made the cut in the 2006 Utah EnergySolutions Championship. For Murray, make it 16 years, seven months and 20 days.

Murray earned a sponsor's exemption by winning the Rex Junior Invitational last weekend, capping that 36-hole tournament with a 67 at TPC Wakefield. Murray, fighting some jitters, had a 2-over 73 in Thursday's opening round but came to the course Friday confident he could go low.

"Perfect scoring conditions," he said of the sunny day. "And I had a much bigger comfort zone. I knew I could do it. Even though I was 2 over I was still confident with my game. Luckily, I played well."

Luck? Murray hit all 18 greens in regulation. He missed just three fairways. He did have a pair of 3-putt bogeys but also made his share of putts and had one "no-putt" green.

At the par-5 sixth hole, Murray holed out a wedge shot from 50 yards for eagle. But he bogeyed the seventh, missed a short birdie putt at the 10th, then three-putted for bogey at the par-3 11th.

"At 11, I was kind of disgusted with myself," Murray said. "I told my caddie I was going to birdie out."

Not just idle chatter, either. Murray reeled off three straight birdies, parred the 15th, then holed 25-foot birdie putts at the 16th and 17th holes.

"I knew coming down the stretch where the cut line would be," Murray said. "I was 1-under [for the tournament] and birdied 16 and 17, which helped me a lot at 18, playing smart on that hole."

Murray laid up at the par-5 18th, then wedged over the creek to 10 feet. The putt didn't fall for a 65, but he had no complaints.

"I just wanted to soak everything up today," Murray said. "If I didn't make the cut, I didn't make the cut. I still would have had a blast."

chip.alexander@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8945

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