NORTH MYRTLE BEACH — Normally, the consecutive birdies Kelli Murphy made on the first two holes of a playoff for the girls title in the 24th Charles Tilghman Junior Championship would have earned the Elgin resident a victory.
But it was no ordinary playoff Sunday at the Surf Golf and Beach Club.
Murphy’s two birdies were matched by Ashley Sloup of Southport, N.C., and Sloup holed a 40-foot birdie putt up a steep slope on the third playoff hole to claim the title.
“That was the best playoff of any tournament I’ve been to: birdie, birdie, birdie,” Sloup said. “Winning a playoff is always exciting and you really have to earn it.”
Dwight Cauthen Jr. of Columbia, who opened the tournament with a 7-under-par 65 Saturday, won the boys title by three strokes over Greenville’s Keenan Huskey at 6-under 138.
Both Sloup and Murphy shot 1-over 145s through 36 holes to force the playoff, which began on the par-5 10th and continued to the par-4 11th and 12th holes.
Both players hit deft chips from the front left of the 10th green over a bunker and mound to within 5 feet and made the putts. On the 11th, Sloup spun a 50-yard pitch shot to within a foot of the hole for a tap in, and Murphy drained a 15-foot putt on top of it to force a third hole.
“I’ve worked so hard for this and I’ve had enough confidence in my game and what I was doing, I knew I could make it,” Murphy said.
Sloup maintained her focus after Murphy’s clutch putt kept her from victory. “It was definitely a pressure putt,” Sloup said. “I was just thinking, ‘Wow, that was a great putt, and on to the next hole.’ ”
Both girls hit approach shots to the front of the 12th green, well below a cup on a back left plateau. Sloup putted first and gave a fist pump as the ball dropped.
“I have no idea how that [last one] went in,” Sloup said. “I was definitely thinking about making it but I definitely wanted to make sure I got it over that ridge because I didn’t want to see it come back to me. I did my best and thought about the hole the whole time.”
Sloup had made four birdies in the tournament’s 36 holes of regulation, including one in Sunday’s even-par 72, before reeling off three straight in the playoff.
“That’s probably the most exciting playoff I’ve ever been in so that was a good time,” said Murphy, whose final putt came up short and left of the hole. “I’d be excited for anybody if they made a 40-foot putt up a hill.”
Sloup, a senior at South Brunswick High who has signed to play at Winthrop next fall, won a Hurricane Junior Golf Tour event at Grande Dunes this past summer, but the Tilghman is her most impressive victory.
That Sloup needed three birdies to win the playoff maybe shouldn’t have come as a shock considering the credentials of Murphy, who plays on the boys team at Lugoff-Elgin High and has committed to play at Auburn next fall.
Murphy was the 2012 Carolinas Junior Girls Player of the Year as determined by the Carolinas Golf Association’s points system, and this year she qualified for the U.S. Women’s Amateur and U.S. Junior Girls events, won the Carolinas Junior Girls Championship for the second time in three years, and won the (S.C.) Players Championship last month at Hartsville Country Club.
Though Sloup’s resume includes fewer successes, she’s a different golfer since playing in the Champions Tour’s $1.8 million Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links in California less than three months ago.
She was the junior partner of Fred Couples for three rounds and they finished 17th in the pro-junior portion of the event.
“After playing with Fred Couples and knowing I can do this, I’ve been a lot more confident and think about how Fred holds his head high the whole time and how calm he is,” Sloup said. “… It definitely gave me a big experience under my belt, so I’m just going to take it in and learn from every situation from here on out.”
Cauthen, 16, who is home-schooled and plays golf as a sophomore for A.C. Flora High, made the boys competition much less dramatic with his opening 65, which was bogey-free with seven birdies and gave him a four-shot lead.
“I was hitting everything really good, but I putted out of my mind,” Cauthen said. “I guess my short game in general is in really good shape.”
The reigning South Carolina Junior Match Play champion began Sunday’s final round with birdies on his first two holes, followed those with three bogeys and closed with 13 consecutive pars.
“I was playing pretty conservative,” Cauthen said. “I was trying to play safe and not do anything stupid and it worked out real well.”’
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.