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Smith Pips Neil, McElroy At The Post In South Africa

by Colin Callander - February 10, 2014

South Africa’s Jason Smith dashed the hopes of both Scotland’s Bradley Neil and Ireland’s Dermot McElroy when he calmly holed a 3-foot birdie putt on the final green to win the South African Open Stroke Play Championship at Benoni Country Club near Johannesburg last Friday.

Smith’s putt was enough to post a 14-under-par total of 274 and to give him a slender one-shot advantage on Neil, McElroy and a second South African, Stefan Cronje. Frenchman Romain Langasque claimed fifth place on his own after closing with a sparkling 5-under-par 67 to finish on 12-under-par 276.

“This is undoubtedly the greatest moment of my career, but it was tough out there,” admitted the champion just after adding a 69 to his opening rounds of 71, 66 and 68. “I promise you, I was shaking from head to toe (on the 18th green). I was so relieved when the putt dropped that I didn’t even realise at first that I’d won the SA Stroke Play. What a feeling when it hit home.”

Neil, the reigning Scottish Boys’ champion, had started the final round with a three-shot lead after opening rounds of 70, 66 and 67 but lost that advantage after carding a level-par 72 on the closing 18 holes.

The 18-year-old from Blairgowrie couldn’t hide his disappointment after coming up one shot short.

“Sure, I’m pretty disappointed because I played my poorest round on the final day,” he said. “I feel that I let myself down, but all credit to Jason, though. Out there you are trying your hardest to win and Jason held up best under pressure; he was a fierce competitor and deserved the win.”

McElroy had led at the halfway point with opening rounds of 69 and 65 but then shot 70 and 71 during the last two days. He reeled off three birdies from the ninth to briefly regain the lead during the final round.

The 20-year-old from Ballymena, who won last year’s North of Ireland title and was second behind Garrick Porteous at the Scottish Open Stroke Play, chose to be philosophical in defeat.

“I played really well, but it was all about putting,” he said. “Four birdies and three bogeys were not too bad, but I missed seven 6-footers for birdie. When you are putting like that, you can’t expect to win. It was Jason’s day and he was a deserved winner.

“But at least I improved on my fifth place last year; that’s something positive to take home with me.”

This year’s South African Stroke Play turned out to be a successful event for the strong European contingent.

English international Toby Tree finished just behind Neil, McElroy and Langasque in a share of sixth place while Frenchman Edgar Catherine was tied eighth alongside in-form South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout and his compatriot, Kyle McClatchie.

Further down the leaderboard, Ireland’s Gary Hurley was tied 11th, Frenchman Paul Elissalde and Ireland’s Chris Selfridge were tied 16th, while Scotland’s Ewen Ferguson and Ireland’s Jack Hume were tied 19th and another Scot, Scott Gibson shared 21st place.

Scotland’s Jamie Savage (T24), Ireland’s Geoff Lenehan, Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre and France’s Edouard Amacher (all T27) also made it into the top 30 while Scotland’s Connor Syme and French duo Mathieu Decottignies-Lafon and Alexandre Daydou were among the group in 32nd place.

The Scottish squad now move on to this week’s annual test match against South Africa at Leopard’s Creek.

England’s Paul Howard will be bidding to complete a unique transatlantic double when he tees up in this week’s Portuguese International Amateur Championship at Montado Golf Club on the Lisbon Coast.

The 23-year-old from Southport & Ainsdale won the recent South American Amateur Championship in Colombia and will be aiming to claim a second national title in less than a month against a strong international field at Montado.

The Portuguese International Amateur traditionally attracts many of Europe’s top amateurs and this year it is no different with Howard being joined by Royal North Devon’s Jimmy Mullen, who finished third in Colombia, as well as by fellow English internationals Nick Marsh, Michael Saunders, Jack Singh-Brar and European Amateur champion Ashley Chesters.

The Irish have an eight-man squad competing in South Africa at present but that has not stopped them from sending Harry Diamond (Belvoir Park), Robin Dawson (Faithlegg), Paul McBride (The Island) and Richard O’Donovan (Lucan) to Montado. The formidable French squad will include the highly-rated Decottignies-Lafon, Langasque, Nicolas Manifacier and teenager Kenny Subregis.

The Spanish are also well represented by Mario Galiano, Iván Cantero, David Morago and Javier Sainz and they will be hoping to achieve their own double after Silvia Bañón Ibáñez won the Portuguese ladies’ title on the same course just more than a week ago.

Other leading competitors include Italian teenager Renato Paratore, who won this year’s Junior Orange Bowl in Florida, Denmark’s Mads Søgaard, Portuguese duo João Carlota and Gonçalo Costa, and Albert Eckhardt, the Finn who shot to prominence last May when he won the 49th Lytham Trophy at Royal Lytham & St Annes.

Robbie Van West from the Netherlands and Switzerland’s Amacher also will fancy their chances after finishing tied fifth and tied ninth behind Portugal’s Gonçalo Pinto on the same course 12 months ago.

The Portuguese women’s event turned out to be a battle between Spanish and English competitors with Bañón Ibáñez producing rounds of 69, 69, 72 and 75 to finish one shot ahead of Curtis Cup hopeful Gabby Cowley on 3-under-par 285. Spain’s Natalia Escuriola Martinez was third on 1-under-par 287 while the rest of the top 10 was made up by England’s Inci Mehmet, Spain’s Luna Sobrón, Italy’s Virginia Elena Carta, Spain’s Nuria Iturrios, England’s Annabel Dimmock, Scotland’s Eilidh Briggs and Ireland’s Mary Doyle.

Dimmock’s share of seventh place alongside Iturrios, Briggs and Doyle extended her fine run of recent form in Florida, where she finished second in the South Atlantic Amateur Championship (“the Sally”) and then beat Pennsylvania’s Isabella DiLisio in the final of the Ione D. Jones/ Doherty Women’s Amateur. Those results have helped the 17-year-old from Wentworth Club to move up to 139th place on the latest Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking.

Dimmock became the second English player to win the Jones/ Doherty event in the space of the past three years by following in the footsteps of Charley Hull, who won in 2011. Hull lost in the quarterfinals of the 2012 event to eventual winner Meghan Stasi from the USA.

Denmark’s Sebastian Cappelen was the leading European player at last week’s Jones Cup Invitational at Ocean Forest Golf Club in Georgia.

The 23-year-old from Odense, whose father, Ulrik, played football for Denmark, put together rounds of 73, 72 and 75 to finish tied fourth alongside reigning US Mid-Amateur champion Mike McCoy on 4-over-par 220.

The event was won by Canadian Corey Conners, who carded scores of 72, 73 and 73 and then defeated Texan Austin Connelly on the first hole of the subsequent sudden-death playoff.

For the second successive year US-based English international Ben Stow claimed a place in the top 10 at Sea Island. Twelve months ago, Stow, who is currently at the University of Kentucky, finished tied ninth behind winner Sean Dale, and this year he carded rounds of 73, 74 and 74 to claim a share of sixth place on 5-over-par 221.

Nine European players finished within the top 30 on the leaderboard at Ocean Forest. Portugal’s Ricardo Gouveia and Frenchman Julien Brun were tied 10th, one shot behind Stow, while Rowin Caron from the Netherlands and Welshman David Boote were tied 14th. England’s Greg Eason finished in a share of 21st place in a group that included world No. 3 Cory Whitsett, while Eason’s compatriot Ben Taylor and Spaniard Emilio Cuartero, were one shot further back in a tie for 26th place.

The event turned out to be a bit of a disappointment for Florida-based teenager Sam Horsfield, who won the recent New Year’s Invitational in St Petersburg, Fla., to move up to sixth place on the World Amateur Golf Ranking.

Horsfield, an Ian Poulter protégé who recently was profiled in Global Golf Post, carded rounds of 76, 78 and 75 to share 48th place in a large group that also included Scotland’s Ewan Scott and Mike Hearne from Wales. Porteous, the 2013 British Amateur champion, was tied 42nd with rounds of 77, 76 and 75 while Irish Walker Cup player Gavin Moynihan was 57th after carding scores of 77, 74 and 79.

Ganton, that superb test of golf on the outskirts of Scarborough, will celebrate its 125th birthday by hosting the English Amateur Championship in 2016.

The occasion will mark the sixth time the Yorkshire club has staged the championship, with previous winners including Gerald Micklem (1947), Michael Bonallack (1968) and Peter Deeble, who beat John Davies by 3 and 1 the last time the championship was staged there in 1976.

Through the years, this majestic inland “links” also has hosted the Ryder Cup, the Walker Cup, the Amateur Championship, the Brabazon Trophy, the British Ladies’ Championship, the Home Internationals and virtually all the other leading British and English amateur events.

Ganton is one of four clubs to be awarded a key England Golf championship during their 125th anniversaries in 2016, the others being Hunstanton (Carris Trophy), West Lancashire (English Women’s Amateur) and Bristol & Clifton (English Women’s Open Stroke Play).

The other blue riband men’s event, the Brabazon Trophy, breaks new ground in 2016 when it goes to The London Club, near Brands Hatch, Kent, for the first time. There will be another “first” when the three English Girls’ open championships, for under 18s, 15s and 13s, will be played at the same venue, namely The Nottinghamshire Golf & Country Club at Coltgrave.

The two mid-amateur championships also go to new venues, with the men’s event, for the Logan Trophy, being staged at Brokenhurst Manor in Hampshire and the women’s equivalent being hosted by Holme Hall in Lincolnshire.

The English Boys’ Under 16 Championship, for the McGregor Trophy, goes to Royal Ashdown Forest for the first time, while the Reid Trophy, the under 14 championship, returns to its “birthplace” at Porters Park in Hertfordshire, which has hosted it on seven occasions since it was inaugurated in 1955.

Reproduced with kind permission of Global Golf Post - Subscribe now for free


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