It was a final for the ages.
England’s Scott Gregory, the world no 10, and his countryman, Marco Penge, have turned on a scintillating display of golf in the final of the 2017 NSW Amateur Golf Championship at Terrey Hills Golf and Country Club today.
In a match that begun under cloudy skies and drizzle, the complete opposite of the conditions competitors faced all week, it was Gregory who got a head start on his less experienced opponent by grabbing a four-hole lead early, and for all intents looking like he would cruise to an easy victory.
For Penge, the early part of the contest was something he’d likely rather forget. As soon as he would win a hole, he would immediately follow it with a wayward tee shot, a missed putt,or a poor recovery shot that made his opponents task easier.
Little could be done by Penge to put a dent in Gregory"s early dominance, and when the morning round was complete, he held a comfortable four-hole lead.
But there could be no denying Penge’s desire to get back into the contest. As the match resumed for the afternoon round, Penge stayed in touch. He won the 26th hole (8th) to claw back one of Gregory’s lead. Then, when the British Amateur Champion failed to take advantage of a poor chip by Penge on the 27th, there was still a glimmer of hope.
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That glimmer turned into a bright light as the combatants turned for the homeward nine. Wins on the 10th and 11th for Penge meant that the match was turning his way, and quickly too.
When Gregory dumped his tee shot on the par-three 12th hole into the hazard, and Penge picked up his third hole in a row, the match was back to one.
The pair halved the 13th with pars. Then, on the 14th, a decison by Penge to layup from the rough with his second allowed him pitch his third to within 6 feet and have a great chance for a four. Gregory, after going for the green on the par 5 in two and in the green side bunker, couldn't make the up and down to match Penge's score, and the match was all square with four holes to play.
The pair matched scores on 15 and 16 to stay locked together. The on the penultimate hole, Penge found a fairway bunker from the tee, while Gregory's drive landed safely in the fairway. Penge had no option but to layup wile Gregory rifled an iron shot some 206 metres to finish just over the back of the green.
Making a great swing under enormous oressure, Penge's third shot finished within 3 metres of the hole. Gregory, facing a tricky chip from well below the green, rolled the shot some 5 metres past the cup. Still to play, the 22 yr old then calmly sunk the return for par. When the less experienced Penge failed to sink his par putt, Gregory had a vital one-hole lead.
The pressure of the final hole was telling, but Gregory, with the experience and the edge, had little more to do than to make a par on the last for a remarkable one-hole victory.
Gregory was thrilled with his win.“It was a real battle today. Marco and I traded shots all day. Obviously, I had a bit of a wobble in the middle of the second round, but I holed a couple of crucial putts in the end,"
Gregory didn’t expect the contest to go the distance, particularly with such a big lead early in the contest,
“I should’ve been closing it out, but I’m playing against a great player in Marco, someone who knows my game,
“I had a couple of things frustrate me mentally today, and I had to stick in there,
“When it was all square two to go, I had to win the 17th. I flagged it from 206 (metres) and thought it was going to be nice putt for birdie,” he said.
Although not as large as his British Amateur Championship triumph, Gregory was thrilled with his win.
“Any win is a good win; you can never knock a win. It's good to come out here and get one early in the season and hopefully use it as a springboard going forward.
It’s likely Gregory’s next event will begin with that famous drive down Magnolia Lane in April at the Masters.
“It might potentially be my next start, this is a good way to go into it really,” he smiled.
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Despite falling agonisingly short, Marco Penge was philosophical about the result.
“All that hard work for nothing. In the end, there’s only one winner, but I gave it a good go,”
Penge’s first 36 hole final was unknown territory for the 20-year-old, and despite coming up empty-handed, he will have learnt plenty from the experience.
“I Was feeling it at the 12th and 13th holes, Scott started feeling it with nine to go, then I won a few holes to turn it around,
“Scott played great; he’s probably number one in the world at match play, I couldn’t have got a harder game really,
“He played well, I was proud of myself just to get it back to one down in the end really,” Penge smiled
Gregory joins a list of names on the 118-year old NSW Amateur Championship trophy that includes, Major Championship winners, Jim Ferrier and 2005 US Open Champion Michael Campbell, European Tour winners Lucas Parsons and Peter O’Malley and Jack Newton. Paul Howard was the most recent English winner, lifting the trophy in 2015.