The BetEasy Australian Masters might have saved South Australian Nick Cullen’s career but it also provided a platform for a number of young Victorians – both professional and amateur – to showcase their talent.
While Cullen edged out tournament favourite Adam Scott with a superb bunker shot at the final hole at Metropolitan, his one-shot win left Scott and James Nitties sitting alongside unheralded local pro Josh Younger.
The trio all finished eight under par and one shot behind Cullen for a share of second place.
Younger, 30, banked by far the biggest pay cheque of his career – around $72,500, which more than tripled the rest of his entire season earnings.
It was not far off the amount Younger took all of 2012 and 2013 to amass. His previous biggest payday was $31,500 when he tied for 13th at the Perth International last year.
His Masters finish also sliced his world ranking in half – from 1071 to 572.
Fellow Victorian Matthew Griffin, winner of the Oates Vic Open, also climbed up the leader board on the final day, sharing fifth place at seven under par and taking home $34,000.
With his tie for fourth at the Perth International last month, Griffin has collected close to $100,000 in the space of a few weeks.
Like Younger, Anthony Houston was another local hopeful who revelled in the conditions at Metropolitan.
The 22-year-old, who had banked just $7000 all year, suddenly found himself with an extra $20,000 after he fought his way into a share of 11th spot, just four shots off the pace.
Amateur Lucas Herbert was determined the pros would not share all of the spotlight though and he swung the lamp his way when he blasted his way to a course record 65 in the third round and finished with a 73 on the final day to join Houston, Bryden Macpherson and Matthew Guyatt at five under the card.
The 18-year-old gathered eight birdies in 10 holes as he strolled around the course in ideal conditions on Saturday.
Herbert was one of three Victorian amateurs to win attention at the Masters with 16-year-old Ryan Ruffels matching defending champion Scott’s four-under 68 in the third round and Todd Sinnott firing 67 on the third day.
Herbert says he and Ruffels were "great friends" after growing up playing a lot of junior golf together.
"We have so much competitive drive with each other and we both want to beat each other as bad as the other one," Herbert said.
And with no money at stake the amateurs are just happy to see each other playing competitively on the big stage.
"We’re obviously not stealing each other’s money, because we are all amateurs, so we like seeing everybody else playing well," he said.
Meanwhile, Scott says his loss to Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy in last year’s Emirates Australian Open, remained a "thorn" in his side – and one he planned to remove at The Australian Golf Club this week.
Scott missed a chance for a perfect ending to 2013 when he bogeyed the final hole of last year’s Open at Royal Sydney to allow McIlroy to win, spoiling his bid for a ‘Triple Crown’ after wins at the Australian PGA Championship and the Masters.
"It’s great for me that Rory’s going back," Scott said. "I was really gutted to lose last year leading on the last. I’d done everything I needed to do to take the lot down there and I messed up on the last, which was very frustrating.
"I don’t need too much motivation to want to go back and win."
The victory paved the way for McIlroy’s brilliant 2014 season, in which he stormed to two major titles and reclaimed the world No.1 one ranking.
Scott called on Emirates Australian Open organisers to let him go head-to-head against McIlroy in the same group for the first two days, but they have decided to spread their talent around.
"I believe the organisers should take advantage and put Rory and myself together because it does happen occasionally at US Opens where they pair the players according to their rankings," Scott said.
"It’s not often we have the world number one and number two ranked players in the same tournament in Australia and it would be fun to do, and I would certainly enjoy that."
Golf Australia championship director Trevor Herden said: "It’s very tempting, but there are several considerations when pairing the strongest world-class players in the Emirates Australian Open field.
"It’s for the exact reasons that the Masters, US and British Opens and the US PGA separated these two guys this season. Just like all the major championships do, we will spread out the superstars across the draw to ensure as many people as possible see them."
By: Robert Grant