Matthew Griffin had his mum by the green, and his girlfriend, too. His first memories of the Victorian Open go back to the 1990s, at Woodlands, with Robert Allenby playing well, and his lifelong hero, Greg Norman, has his name on the trophy. Needless to say, the Oates Victorian Open means a lot to him as a Melburnian. And with a two-metre sliding putt for birdie at the third playoff hole, 30-year-old Griffin fought off the challenge from New South Welshman Matthew Stieger to have his name etched into that silverware alongside the Shark and many other legends. Griffin pumped a fist and hugged his family. It had been a long day to secure his first professional win in his home country. Starting two shots back and playing in the final group with Stieger and rookie professional Brett Drewitt, Griffin held firm until the 17th hole, when he bombed a 10-metre birdie putt to join the lead, hearing a crowd reaction that was new to him, for the numbers at 13th Beach were huge for the second consecutive year. “I&aposve never heard a roar like that&apos&apos. At the 18th he drove into the right fairway trap and had to be content with par as Stieger, needing a birdie for a playoff, delivered and Drewitt narrowly missed a three-metre eagle putt that would have sent him into the playoff as well. Back they went to the 18th tee and both birdied to extend it, then on the second playoff hole, Stieger drove into the same fairway bunker and then hit an incredible six iron third shot from 175 metres to the shadow of the stick to get himself out of jail, and put the pressure back on Griffin. “I guess you always go &aposhow many times&apos,&apos said Griffin. “He holed a good putt in regulation, &aposwhen is he going away&apos?&apos&apos But Griffin birdied again with a delightful chip and back they went to the tee again as the shadows lengthened and the crowd in the bar behind the 18th grew more raucous. Stieger had made three consecutive birdies at the 18th — one in regulation and two in the playoff. But he could not manage a third. His drive went into thick rough, and his second narrowly carried the hazard that lines the left of the 18th. Not a confident chipper, he putted through the fringe, past the flag to three metres but missed for birdie. Griffin hit his second into the right bunker, and got it up and down like the canny touring professional that he has become for a third straight birdie in the playoff. “It was awesome to get over the line and with that bunker shot, it probably ended up a six or seven footer and sliding across the slope, so I was glad it squeezed in,&apos&apos said Griffin. The win gives Griffin a two-year exemption for the Australasian Tour, which allows him flexibility as he pursues his dream to play in Europe. The stroke of luck at the 16th was in his memory. “That s huge, I mean if my ball goes in there I can t get to the green. It’s winner s luck and you always need a little bit of it and I got it today. A lot of times I ve had myself in contention and the putts haven t dropped and sometimes it happens for the right reasons and it did today, so it was nice.&apos&apos It was a momentous week for Golf Victoria and for 13th Beach, which has already made the Vic Open its own. The tournament feels comfortable there, and while there were plenty of free tickets on offer, the crowds were bigger than at some of the more lucrative tournaments in Melbourne. It was a red-letter day for the tournament and for Matt Griffin, who was doused in beer on the 18th green by none other than Stieger, whom he had conquered a few minutes earlier. “My childhood hero Greg Norman s on there, so it s nice to put your name on the same trophy as a great and there s so many other amazing players on there, Peter Thomson is incredible,&apos&apos he said.
Author: Martin Blake / golf.org.au at 13th Beach