Grayson Murray makes final-round charge with 61 but falls short in Rex

Grayson Murray played with Chris Baker on Friday at the Rex Hospital Open. The Raleigh native knew what was possible.

Baker had a putt on the last hole for a 59 at the Country Club at Wakefield Plantation. Baker missed it but his 60, a new course record, gave him a lead that the Tour regular maintained Saturday and took into Sunday’s final round.

Murray teed off Sunday 10 groups and 10 shots behind Baker. But by the time his round was done, Murray not only had made up those 10 shots but surged into the lead, firing a 10-under-par 61 to get in at 18-under 266.

“I gave it my all today,” he said after the round. “If it comes up short I’ll still be pleased.”

And 18-under wasn’t quite enough to win. Sebastian Cappelen of Denmark birdied three of the last four holes for a final-round 64, closing with a tournament-record 21-under 263 total. His second career Tour victory was worth $117,000.

Murray tied for second with Zack Sucher, both earning $57,200, after moving up 20 spots in the last round and getting everyone’s attention.

“I saw the lead was 18 (under) and I thought it was Chris (Baker),” said Cappelen, who was a four-time All-American at Arkansas. “But my caddie told me someone was 10-under with two (holes) to go and he’s the one who’s leading. I’m just glad I kind of pulled away and made it easy for myself coming down the stretch.”

For Murray, it could have better than a 61. But he missed birdie putts at the 16th and 17th holes. He then had to get up-and-down from a back bunker at the par-4 18th for a par, sinking an 8-foot putt.

“Obviously it’s my home course. I know it like the back of my hand,” Murray said. “But that doesn’t correlate to good golf. You still have to strike it well. I’m obviously very pleased I had a chance.”

Murray, 25, has been away from the PGA Tour, rehabbing a back injury most of the past two months. But he decided to play the Rex, supporting a hometown tournament where he gained acclaim as a 16-year-old, earning an exemption into the Rex by winning a junior tournament and then making the 36-hole cut with a second-round 66.

Murray used a sponsor’s exemption in the Rex in 2016 to propel him toward the PGA Tour. He tied for 10th in the Rex and was on his way, finishing with more than $400,000 on the Tour to earn playing rights on the big tour in 2017. The vibes are always good ones at Wakefield, it seemed.

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“I really didn’t have much expectations going into this week,” Murray said. “I really started preparing a week before this event and that’s why I decided to play. I started feeling good with my back and just decided to give a go.”

Murray initially said he would not hit driver during the tournament, saying the full swings might cause more back spasms. He stuck to that plan in the first round, when he had a 70, but began to use driver in shooting 67 and 68 in the next two rounds.

In addition to Baker’s 60, which tied the tournament 18-hole record, there had been 62 shot by Sucher on Saturday and Luke Guthrie on Friday. Birdies were plentiful this week at Wakefield.

“I played with Chris Baker and he made it look so easy. I don’t think he hit it outside of 15 feet all day,” Murray said. “I was a little different today. I had to make a couple of putts for par and made a couple of bombs for birdie.”

Murray birdied six of seven holes beginning with the par-5 ninth hole. At the par-5 15th, he chipped 25 feet short but drained the long birdie putt to move to 18-under and, at the time, into the lead.

“I hit it pretty well all week, was pretty smart and never deviated from my game plan,” Murray said. “I was really patient and think I only had three bogeys all week, which is good for me. I tend to make a lot of bogeys and a lot of birdies. Whenever I can eliminate those bogeys I’m always going to be in the hunt.”

Murray, who won the 2017 Barbasol Open on the PGA Tour, said the high finish and solid play -- and pain-free -- would not tempt him to quickly jump back onto the PGA Tour.

“My main goal is to be healthy when I get back out on the big tour,” he said. “Hopefully go into the fall fresh and healthy.”