When Nick Cullen sits on his deck in a rickety rocking chair in his twilight years, he will recall fondly THAT shot.
In a tournament with a long history of standout one-shot moments, when the sand settles on his closing bunker shot on Metropolitan’s 18th in days to come, Cullen’s will be on the podium.
The South Australian, a player with far greater upside than his world ranking of 632 suggests, made one of the great sand saves to win by a stroke from a bunch – including world No.2 Adam Scott — that charged hard at him in the closing holes.
Knowing a par would do the trick as he stood on the last tee, Cullen’s heart skipped a beat when his approach from light rough to the long par four came up 25m short and left of the pin in a deep bunker.
But rather than see his dreams of a first Triple Crown victory dissipate, the Adelaide left-hander played the shot of his life to within 50cm.
The subsequent tap-in was a formality, but one he will never forget.
“It was the best shot I’ve ever hit,” an emotional Cullen admitted after slipping on a gold jacket he thought he’d never own.
“I thought, `Oh no’ (when it went in there). But I just trusted all the hours of practice and did it.
“But I wouldn’t want to have to hit it again.
“It was a relief. I tried to pick my landing spot, get a feel for how it might roll out.
“It was fantastic to see it finish where it did because I wouldn’t have wanted a putt longer (than 1m) … I was pretty nervous over it as it was.”
Cullen, 30, is the twin brother of former Australian Test cricketer Dan, and he joked afterwards that his new addition would take precedence over the baggy green in the family wardrobe.
Cullen, a winner of last year’s Queensland Open and the Indonesian Open in 2012, said he’d twice been close to walking away from golf, but paid tribute to his twin for keeping his mind focused.
The South Aussie was driving home through the desert after a run of shoddy pro-am results in New South Wales in 2010 and actually stopped the car with negative thoughts about golf flooding his head.
“I worked really hard after that. It was a realisation that you either work really hard to quit to do something else – not be in stuck in the middle and sort of floundering.
“I just didn’t want to let people down who’d helped me over the years and decided to work harder.
“I’m glad I did now. I can’t believe I’m sitting here.”
Scott, the dual defending champion, missed a poultice of birdie chances in his closing round of 68, narrowly missing a playoff that would have featured fellow runners-up Josh Younger and James Nitties had Cullen faltered.
But there were none more agonising for the Queenslander than the 15m bomb he thought he’d holed on the last, even to the point of cueing up a fist pump that he reluctantly had to deflate.
"It’s hard to win one tournament, let alone three in a row,” Scott lamented.
“Defending was a big thrill for me, but it is very difficult to just show up and (think) you’re going to win every year.
“It doesn’t happen very much and unfortunately I think Thursday (73 in high winds) was a bit costly for me — I was playing better than that. But it is what it is.”
The result could cost Scott his world No.2 ranking later tonight should Henrik Stenson salute in the European Tour’s Dubai World Championship.
If you ever needed proof that tournaments begin on the closing nine holes on a Sunday, grab a DVD of today’s finale.
Cullen didn’t lead until the 11th hole, before which time there had been 17 players within four shots of the lead that had been dominated by his fellow South Australian Paul Spargo.
But a magnificent birdie after a drive into sand on the par-four 12th gave kicked Cullen clear of the pack and dashed the hopes of many further back.
But just when he appeared bulletproof, Cullen himself then brought gave the pack a sniff with back-to-back three-putts on the 14th and 15th, his only two such blemishes all week.
“I made some really good putts early on, so they didn’t rattle me,” Cullen said.
“I hit good putts on both those holes, but they just missed – as simple as that.”
The final group of Spargo (73) and Michael Wright (80) just couldn’t fire a shot all day.
The Golf Australia national squad a tournament to cherish with all three who made the cut inside the top 20.
Lucas Herbert finished with a 73 after a double-bogey up the last hole relegated him to a tie for 11th.
Thursday and Friday standout Todd Sinnott recovered well with a 70 to finish in a tie for 17th alongside Ryan Ruffels who had identical numbers.
Antonio Murdaca missed Friday’s cut by a stroke.
By: Mark Hayes (Golf Australia)