New Zealander Michael Long has claimed the 2016 Men’s Oates Vic Open after producing an amazing recovery shot from a hazard to beat Canberra’s Matthew Millar in a dramatic play-off.
The pair tied on 13-under at the end of the regulation 72 holes at Barwon Heads’ Thirteenth Beach Golf Links after Millar birdied the final three holes to force the tournament into a play-off.
With huge crowds following the pair back up the par-five 18th hole, Long hooked his second shot about 40m left of the pin and into deep rough inside the hazard on the first play-off hole.
But Long not only knocked the ball onto the green, he put it within five feet. After Millar left his birdie attempt just short of the cup, the Kiwi rolled in his putt to claim the title.
The 47-year-old is the third New Zealander to win the Oates Vic Open and first since Gareth Paddison in 2004.
It was the third consecutive year the men's Oates Vic Open has been decided in a play-off.
Long, who hadn’t won since the 2008 WA PGA Championship, said he was amazed someone found his ball and was fortunate it was sitting nicely for him to attack the pin.
“It was sitting up high so it was a little baseball shot and I said to my caddy `here we go, it's a wing and a prayer' and it came out perfect,” Long said.
“What can you say? Don't want to say it was a pure fluke because I had some idea what I was going to do. But I could not do that again in probably 100 attempts.
“I was walking in there and I was worried the ball might actually fall down to the bottom of the reeds. One of the marshals was saying to be careful when you walk in there.
“Didn't want to think about it too much and trusted my hand-eye coordination that I could hit a ball about three feet off the ground.
“That was pretty special – that one will live for a long time. I feel a little bit sad for Matthew because I had no right to make four from there.”
Long, who has a full-time job as a general manager of a golf course in Perth and is a director of the PGA Tour of Australasia, said he was thrilled to add his name to the Oates Vic Open honour roll.
“It means a lot. (Vic Open) has got a lot of wonderful names, Australian golf has got a rich and proud history and tradition and to get your name on some of these trophies is nice,” Long said.
Millar, who has now posted five runner-up finishes in his last 16 tournaments, admitted he thought the pair were heading back up the 18th for the third time when he saw where Long had played his approach.
“You don’t assume anything in golf because you can always hole it from anywhere,” Millar said.
“But to honest, walking on the green I thought to myself `we’re a red hot chance to at least go one more hole here’ because I certainly wouldn’t have backed him to get it up and down from out of there (hazard).
“But well done to Longy. He played well today and he’s obviously played well through the week and didn’t make too many errors.”
Aron Price, who led the tournament at the half-way mark, and day one leader Scott Strange both finished tied for third on 11-under with six players a further shot back.
That included New Zealand’s Josh Geary, who had the best round of the final day a six-under par 66, and local hope Ben Eccles.
It was Eccles second consecutive top 10 Oates Vic Open finish. The 21-year-old was disappointed at his finish after bogeying the final hole.
“I had a few chances out there and couldn’t get them to drop,” Eccles said after his round. “It’s been a good week, I played pretty solidly and it’s a good way to start the year.
“It would have been nice this week to finish it off because of the home crowd but the game is there. I’ve just got to keep putting myself there and one will come.”
Third round leader Adam Blyth had a final round to forget, carding a six-over par 78 to finish tied for 19th at seven-under par.
That group also included the leading amateur, Victorian Brett Coletta, who shot a final round of four-under par 68.