Date: November 25, 2012
Author: Dean Wedlake, Omnisport

Higginbottom claims NZ Open

The 56-year wait for an amateur winner took precedence over a nine-year Kiwi drought as Australian teenager Jake Higginbottom surged from behind on the final day to win the New Zealand Open. The scene was set for Mark Brown, ahead by three strokes at the 54-hole stage, to end a long wait for a local winner but it wasn&apost to be. Instead, 19-year-old Higginbottom followed in the footsteps of Harry Berwick way back in 1956 as an amateur winner of the New Zealand Open. And not since Sir Bob Charles won as an 18-year-old amateur in 1954 has a teenager lifted the Brodie Breeze Trophy. Higginbottom is only the 29th-ranked amateur globally but will feel like he is on top of the world, despite being unable to claim the AU$72,000 winner&aposs cheque. That cheque, along with the money for second place, is instead split by fellow Aussies Jason Norris and Peter Wilson. Higginbottom burned up Clearwater on Sunday with a five-under 67 that featured eight birdies and while he also made three bogeys, it was enough to hold off Norris and Wilson by a single shot. Higginbottom made a nerveless par via the fairway and green at the 18th to finish seven-under for the tournament, one ahead of Norris and Wilson and three clear of Brown. Brown&aposs quest for a maiden New Zealand Open title started well enough with eight pars and a birdie in his first 10 holes but it unravelled from there. He bogeyed the 11th and 13th and while others made birdies around him coming home, the 37-year-old Wellingtonian couldn&apost manage any. His fellow Kiwi Richard Lee snuck under the radar to fire a 69 on Sunday and claim outright fifth, with Australians Brody Ninyette (68), Clint Rice (69) and veteran Peter O&aposMalley (71) sharing sixth at two-under. Nick Cullen was the other player to break par for the week at one-under and in ninth place. Higginbottom came into the week as a tournament invitee and the defending Bledisloe Cup champion as the best amateur at the 2011 New Zealand Open, having finished tied for 22nd at last year&aposs event. But given he had also been the best amateur at an even bigger event last weekend with a tie for 10th in a strong Australian Masters field, his vision was squarely set on winning the main silverware. The New South Welshman started reasonably inauspiciously with an even-par 72, followed it up with a two-under 70 to share second at the halfway stage and maintained that with another 72 on Saturday. He knew he had to go low in the final round and did exactly that, showing up the professionals in the process. He bogeyed the first but bounced back with two straight birdies and one more at the tricky eighth. Higginbottam then made five more on the back nine including gutsy efforts at the 15th and 17th to move one ahead of Wilson and Norris on both occasions. His was the second amateur win in the PGA Tour of Australasian season, following fellow Aussie Oliver Goss&apos victory at last month&aposs WA Open. Amazingly, Norris almost missed the cut this week and if he had dropped a further shot in his final two holes on Friday, he would have been heading home. But he birdied 17 for a 73, a day after an opening 77, and came home with a wet sail on the weekend with consecutive 66s. Wilson was tied for second at the 54-hole mark and maintained that with a five-birdie, one-bogey effort including a 20-foot birdie putt at the 72nd hole to steal a decent chunk of money out of Norris&apos back pocket. The three top Australians head home with a smile on their face but for Brown, and New Zealand, it is ultimately another year of heartbreak as the hunt for a local hero rolls on to a 10th year.