Date: March 08, 2009
Author: Dean Wedlake at Clearwater, Sportal

Alker breaks Kiwi drought

Steve Alker has broken a hometown drought at the NZ PGA Championship, claiming a comfortable two-stroke victory as a thrilling finish failed to materialise in the final round. A New Zealander had never won since the reintroduction of the NZ PGA at Clearwater in 2004, while it had also been 22 long years since Frank Nobilo was a popular Kiwi winner in the event&aposs previous life in 1987. Alker changed all that, matching Saturday&aposs 67 in a performance that was the epitome of composure to complete the tournament on 15-under 273. The diminutive Kiwi had plenty of challengers through the early part of the afternoon but established a gap of three when birdying the 15th. A momentary wobble was to follow as he bogeyed the par-three 16th from the bunker – breaking a sequence of 35 holes without a dropped shot – but Alker held it together to par in. It was his first tournament victory since the 2002 Louisiana Open. New Zealand&aposs past NZ PGA struggles, where only three players had finished in the top 10 since 2004, also became a thing of the past as David Smail and Josh Geary completed strong weeks in a tie for second. Smail notched consecutive runner-up finishes with a final-round 68 to end the week at 13-under and was joined by Geary with a blemish-free 67. Equal-fourth a shot further back were Aussie Michael Sim, Norwegian Henrik Bjornstad along with American Ryan Hietala. Overnight leader Steve Friesen fell by the wayside on Sunday, as did playing partner Kurt Barnes as Alker&aposs fellow players in the final group failed to cope with the pressure. Both Friesen and Barnes, who led through the first two rounds, shot even-par 72s and were the only ones in the top 20 to miss out on the red numbers on Sunday. Their disappointment might pale in comparison to that of 2004 NZ PGA champion Gavin Coles, however. Starting the day at eight-under, Coles sunk nine birdies which would have been enough to tie the course record – and finish two ahead of Alker – had he not triple-bogeyed the 8th and double-bogeyed the 18th. He instead settled for a tie for seventh at 11-under alongside Kiwi amateur Danny Lee, who was right in the hunt until a poor back nine cost him any chance of his second victory in three weeks. The world No.1 amateur and Johnnie Walker Classic winner reached 12-under when he birdied the tough par-three 9th but a rollercoaster back side saw bogeys at the 12th, 13th, 15th along with birdies at the final two holes to sign for a 70. The honour of round of the day went to American Chad Ginn, who made seven birdies and a solitary bogey in a six-under 66 that propelled him well up the leaderboard into an eventual tie for 20th.