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McNealy rallies to make match play at U.S. Amateur

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OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – Maverick McNealy made sure Wednesday that a fitful night of sleep wasn’t for naught. 

On the cut line for match play at the U.S. Amateur, the No. 2-ranked amateur in the world needed to play his final two holes in 1 under to avoid a win-to-get-in playoff. He said the past 12 hours were so stressful that he tossed and turned all night and could barely keep his food down.

It was all worth it Wednesday when he canned a 30-footer for birdie on his 17th hole of the day, the par-4 eighth at Olympia Fields’ South Course. After a mud ball in the fairway, he got up and down from right of the ninth green for a tap-in par to post 2-over 142 and punch his ticket to match play.

“These were two-and-a-half of the hardest days of golf I’ve ever played,” said McNealy, the reigning NCAA Player of the Year. “It felt like I was up against it every step of the way.” 

The Stanford junior's misfortune began during the opening round, when he played the most difficult stretch on the North – the course that was used for the 2003 U.S. Open – in the wicked weather that swept through the area Monday. He bogeyed three of his last four holes and shot 72. 

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Because of a 90-minute weather delay Tuesday, he didn’t tee off for his second round until 3:10 p.m. local time. He tried to pass the time, watching a movie and nibbling on food, but it was a long and uneasy wait. 

“We’ve used up all of our bad luck,” said McNealy’s father, Scott, who is on the bag this week. 

McNealy was 2 over par for the day (4 over overall) and outside the cut line when he made a 5-footer for birdie on 6. He failed to convert an easy up-and-down from the bunker on the par-5 seventh before the horn sounded.

His outlook changed at 7:35 a.m. Wednesday, when he hit 6-iron from 184 yards on No. 8 and drained his longest putt of the week.

“Getting up early,” he said, “these next couple of hours will be huge. It was not a very restful night.”

And it was a stark departure from how his 2014 U.S. Amateur ended. Inside the cut line while playing the last hole, he misjudged his layup shot with a 9-iron and found the water. After a drop, he sailed his next shot into the back lip of a bunker and took triple to miss out.

“This feels so much better to be on this end of it,” he said. 

The seeds have not yet been determined for match play, but McNealy will be somewhere in the 30s. He enters this event with plenty of confidence, having dusted the field last week at the Northern California Match Play, where he medaled by five shots and never played past the 15th hole in the match-play bracket.