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Kua and Morita in Manoa Cup final


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POSTED: Saturday, June 20, 2009

Even before the first ball is struck this morning, two things are certain about this year's Manoa Cup outcome.

The 101st title will go to a first-time winner. And the green jacket customarily awarded to the champion will be headed to Kauai.

Those details were solidified yesterday when T.J. Kua of Lihue and Layne Morita of Kapaa won their quarterfinal and semifinal matches to advance to today's 36-hole championship at Oahu Country Club.

Kua and Morita both defeated past Manoa Cup winners to earn their shots at the state amateur match-play championship.

Kua defeated 2004 champion Ryan Perez 3 and 2 in his semifinal match. Moments later, Morita made a tricky par putt on the 18th hole to hold off 2007 champion Kurt Nino for a 1-up win and set up the all-Kauai final.

“;I've known T.J. since we were small kids. It's going to be fun, I'm just going to have a good time out there and stay focused,”; Morita said.

The match is scheduled to start at 7 a.m.

While Kua, a semifinalist last year, is making his first appearance in the final, he does have the experience of caddie Travis Toyama — a two-time Manoa Cup champion — on his side.

“;Travis is a good caddie. He tells me exactly what I need to do,”; Kua said. “;He said just keep hitting greens and put the pressure on him instead of making it hard on yourself. So we just focused on hitting greens, not so much sticking it close, and trust my putting.”;

That philosophy paid off yesterday in his match with Perez after he defeated Christopher Armanini 4 and 2 in his quarterfinal match.

Kua and Perez traded birdies on the first two holes, and it appeared Perez would move ahead when he stuck his approach shot on the par-4 fifth hole within 2 feet. After Kua conceded the birdie, he lined up a lengthy putt of his own and appeared displeased with his stroke — until, that is, the ball slammed into the cup to salvage a half.

“;I thought I whacked it a little too hard and through the break,”; Kua said. “;So I started walking and I looked up and it just started diving to the right and ended up going in. You get lucky sometimes.”;

Kua took the lead for good when Perez bogeyed the next hole and the lead grew to 2 up at the turn when Perez's par putt on No. 9 lipped out. Kua remained steady to close out the match on the 16th hole.

“;Through the week I've been making every putt I looked at and today just not having the touch going is a little frustrating,”; Perez said after exiting his final Manoa Cup.

“;I think (the fifth hole) was the momentum saver. I think if he missed, it could have gone either way. But that's just how it goes; that's match play.”;

Morita is playing in the tournament for just the second time and lost in the first round last year. But he rolled through his side of the bracket and beat Robert Szymaszek 7 and 5 in the quarterfinals to warm up for his match with Nino.

Morita was dormie after sinking a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 16, but Nino, struggling with a bad back, continued to make it tough on the Chaminade senior-to-be.

Nino drove the green on No. 17 and made birdie to send the match to the 18th. Morita's drive then drifted past the trees to the left and onto the 15th fairway. But he managed to avoid the branches to place his second shot next to the green.

“;I went there in my qualifying round, so I had an idea of what kind of shot to hit,”; Morita said.

Nino's chip for birdie grazed the hole but stayed out and Morita sealed the win with his par.

“;(The chip) was my only chance because I knew he was going to get up and down,”; said Nino, who also indicated this was probably his final Manoa Cup before he tries to turn pro. “;He played solid all day. Every mistake I made, he executed and took advantage.”;