Australian Open – Day 4

As we all know, golf can be a cruel game. If New Zealander, David Smails, didn’t know this before his final round, he certainly learned it the hard way. The overnight leader late in his round was leading by three shots late and apparently cruising to victory. Matthew Goggin and Tim Clark were already in the clubhouse, both having finished at 9 under overall. Then in a cruel blow, consecutive double bogeys by Smail at the 15th and 16th holes derailed his title campaign. With his confidence severely dented, and one shot behind Clark and Goggin, Smail need at least one birdie from the final two holes to salvage a place in a play-off. A birdie proved elusive and Smail had to scramble over the last two holes to save par, leaving him at T3. Visibly shocked, Smail left the 18th green shaking his head and wondering what could have been.

“I’m just gutted really,can’t do much about it,” the rangy Kiwi said after signing off on a disappointing 75 for a four round total of 280. “Everything was going so well but the 15th was the turning point.” “The 16th I made a mess of it (after) a bad tee shot.” “I was a bit shattered after that and then I really just lost my way.” “The rest is history. Looking back I can’t really think of a tournament I’ve lost (when I’ve been in such a position).” “I usually manage to finish it off.”

Clark lit up the course over his opening 13 holes in regulation play by picking up seven birdies. He then appeared ready to fall away by dropping three shots in consecutive holes starting with a double bogey from the greenside bunker at the 13th. The classy South African, however, pulled his round together by picking up two closing birdies to finish with a 67 and to be nine-under overall.

Although shooting a respectable 69, Goggin was one of the many to believe Smail was cruising to victory. Goggin had even given gear away to fans and was back in the clubhouse. With Smail’s round starting to unravel, Goggin had to send his caddy into the locker-room to find new balls and gloves so he could take part in a play-off, if necessary. “I’d given away all my balls, all my gloves, pretty much everything,” Goggin revealed. “You just weren’t expecting that at all. Nine-under never looked the score all day so to get in the playoff was a bonus.” Clark had similar thoughts at the time. “I didn’t even consider there would be a playoff until about 30 minutes after I finished,” he said. “I was watching the TV having a pie and chips, believe it or not, and thought I better get down there and warm-up.” By the time Smail completed the 17th, Goggin and Clark were already side-by-side on the driving range, warming up for their anticipated shoot out.

The play-off was held on the par 4 18th hole, with it to be played and replayed as long as necessary to decide a winner. Only one play-off hole was necessary. Clark teed-off first with a hybrid to land mid-fairway. Goggin then took out a long iron and split the fairway some 20 metres or so past Clark’s ball. Clark hit a poor approach shot, which leaked right into a greenside bunker. Goggin followed with an immaculate approach to the green to set up a longish birdie chance or at least a regulation par.

Clark blasted his ball out of the bunker and within a puttable distance on the green to give him some chance of saving par. Goggin failed to sink his birdie chance and left his ball some 3 to 4 foot from the hole. Clark drained his putt like it was never in doubt and saved par. Goggin, with the pressure on him to save par to continue the play-off, calmly walked up and putted without delay. Goggin’s ball slid over the left edge and lipped out, causing a collective groan from the gallery. It was then Clark’s turn to look shell-shocked having won the tournament, which he never looked likely to win on the final day. “It’s obviously a bonus to get into the playoff and I feel bad for David the way he finished”, Clark said. “Then in the playoff I won it like that too. It’s tough to win like that but at the end of the day, I’m the winner.”

Goggin was left with another disappointment after also finishing second at the Australian PGA Championship the week before. “To miss a short putt and not keep it going twists the knife a bit but that’s part of it.” “This would have been given to us. Tim and I, we didn’t deserve to be in a playoff at all.” “It wasn’t even in our head. I thought I need to get to at least 11 (under) to put any scoreboard pressure on him (Smail).” “I feel for David (Smail). He had the tournament, he was playing well and had such a horror finish that’s it brutal for him.”

Of the other notables in the event, Robert Allenby finished T3 also. Geoff Ogilvy finished a respectable 7 under after carding a 68 on the final day. Paul Goydos and Rod Pampling finished T16 after both shooting even par in their final rounds.

So Tim Clark is this year’s champion and by so doing will force himself to rearrange his travel plans for next year, after he initially planned not to play the Australian Open in 2009. Oh what a difference a final round can make. The completion of the Australian Open brings to an end the Australian PGA 2008 schedule. I hope you enjoyed the action as much as I enjoyed bringing it to you!!

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