Viktor Hovland, Devon Bling to meet in must-see U.S. Amateur final


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PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The fog was so thick on a brisk Saturday morning at iconic Pebble Beach that it was impossible to see the ninth and 10th holes from the seventh green. The Pacific Ocean was nearly indecipherable, too.

Unmistakable, however, was the quality of golf from all four U.S. Amateur semifinalists.

With a trip to the U.S. Open – and a likely invite to the Masters – on the line, Cole Hammer and Isaiah Salinda rose to the occasion on a soft and gettable Pebble Beach layout. Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas, made five birdies in his last 12 holes and overcame a 2-over start through four holes to shoot 2 under in 16 holes. Salinda, a senior at Stanford, was 5 under in 18 holes with six birdies, including four on the back nine.

Neither performance, though, was good enough to win.

Oklahoma State’s Viktor Hovland capped a 3-and-2 victory over Hammer with a run of five straight birdies. He finished with eight total. UCLA’s Devon Bling was equally impressive, notching seven birdies to send Salinda packing with a 1-up victory.

Hovland and Bling will meet in Sunday’s scheduled 36-hole final, which begins at 7:30 a.m.

“I kind of ran into a buzz saw,” Hammer said.

Salinda felt the same way. He got down early to Bling, bogeying two of his first five holes and trailing 2 down entering the par-5 sixth. But he got up and down for birdie from the right bunker at No. 6 and then won No. 7 with par to square the match back up. From there, Salinda hung with Bling every step of the way, though Bling made a 15-footer for birdie at the difficult par-4 eighth and never trailed after that.

Every time Salinda made a charge, Bling responded.

Salinda made a long birdie putt at the par-4 10th, yet Bling also converted birdie. He birdied No. 11, as well, only to see Bling card a 3 there, too. Bling with 2 up by sticking his tee ball at the par-3 12th to 6 feet and making the putt. And after a Salinda birdie at the par-4 13th, Bling drained a 16-footer for birdie at the par-5 14th to get his 2-up lead back.

“I love feeling the pressure,” Bling said. “I like being nervous out there and knowing that I’ve got to hit a good shot here, and I’ve got to make this putt.”

The match, which saw a combined 13 birdies, went the distance, and it was Bling hitting the par-5 18th green in two and three-putting for par to punch his ticket to Sunday’s final.

“I hit it incredibly well today, putted well,” Bling said. “All aspects of my game were firing on all cylinders. It was a battle against Isaiah. He played really well himself. I was really happy to come out on top.”

Devon Bling (USGA/JD Cuban)

Hovland’s match against Hammer followed a similar storyline. Hammer got off to a rough start, hitting his drive at the long par-4 second out of bounds left and failing to take advantage of a nice 3-wood hit just shy of the green at the 286-yard par-4 third. After Hovland built a 2-up lead after three holes, Hammer then slightly chunked his tee ball with iron at the par-4 fourth and barely made the fairway.

But Hammer didn’t quit. He sank a 15-footer for birdie at the par-3 fifth and then squared the match back up with an 8-footer for birdie at No. 6. Hovland did make a 5-footer for birdie at No. 7, but Hammer responded two holes later with an impressive par, nearly driving his tee ball into the hazard right but recovering to give himself a 15-foot look for birdie.

On the back nine, the fog began to dissipate and things started to really heat up. Hovland sank a 15-footer for birdie to win the par-4 10th before Hammer took the par-4 11th with a 4-foot birdie make. No. 12 was halved with birdies, Hammer from 5 feet and Hovland from 6 feet, and Hovland went back to 1 up by draining a 20-footer for birdie at the par-4 13th.

“The wind, it wasn’t blowing as hard, and the greens were a little softer, so the conditions were definitely conducive to making birdies,” Hovland said. “But still, you’ve got to hit the shots, and you’ve got to make the putts. I think we just kind of fed off each other a little bit. He made a putt and then I answered, if not the same hole making a putt, I’d make a putt on the next hole, and we just went back and forth.”

Then came the turning point. With Hammer facing 6 feet for birdie at the par-5 14th, Hovland got in the hole first by making a 10-footer for birdie. He delivered a big fist pump and forced Hammer to make his putt to halve the hole and stay 1 down, which he did.

“If Viktor doesn’t make that the match goes to all square and we’ve got a different match,” said Hovland’s college coach and caddie, Alan Bratton. “That’s a huge momentum swing there.”

Hovland didn’t miss a green or a fairway on the back nine, and as the match went on it put more and more pressure on Hammer, who ended up finding a bunker in the middle of the 15th fairway and later missed a 14-footer for par. Hovland calmly made his fourth straight birdie, from 5 feet, to move to 2 up with three holes to play.

“That kind of sealed the deal,” Hammer said.

A hole later, Hovland made yet another birdie to end Hammer’s hot summer, which included wins at the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball, Azalea Amateur and Western Amateur, and a co-medal in stroke play earlier this week.

“There were a few matches this year where I got away with not playing great golf, and that was just not going to happen today,” Hammer said. “He just played great, made everything he looked at. Pars were never going to win the hole.”

Said Bratton: “Viktor was going to be hard to beat today – and same with Cole Hammer. That’s a credit to two very good players in the field meeting up, and that’s what you’re going to get in a semifinal and ultimately in the final, as well.”

If Saturday was any indication, Bling vs. Hovland will be must-see golf.


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