Date: March 15, 2009
Author: Dean Wedlake at The Hills, Sportal

Prugh storms home

A scintillating eight-under 64 on the final day, including two eagles, saw American Alex Prugh rise above the pack and claim the New Zealand Open title by three strokes in Queenstown on Sunday. Prugh made eagles at the par-four 8th and the par-five 17th along with five birdies for what turned out to be a comfortable buffer over countryman Martin Piller in shooting rounds of 65, 71, 69 and 64 for a four-round total of 19-under 269. It didn&apost appear to be such a clear-cut thing when the two were tied at 16-under late in the day but a birdie-eagle run by Prugh, which Piller responded to with a bogey, ended the tournament as a contest. Prugh&aposs 64 was the best of the day by two strokes and was kick-started by his eagle out of the blue on the 8th. The 465m hole has played over-par all week but Prugh – who was even-par for the day at that stage – dunked his second shot in the cup and the momentum carried him to a six-under 30 on the demanding back nine. He became the first American winner since 2010 Ryder Cup captain-elect Corey Pavin claimed back-to-back successes in 1984-85. Piller held the lead at the completion of Saturday&aposs third round and foresaw that he would need to fire at the flags and go low if he was to take the top prize. His prediction proved prophetic as his overnight advantage at 12-under was whittled away before he had even teed off and even a solid 68 on Sunday wasn&apost enough to get him over the line. In an identical clean-sweep to a Kiwi effort at last week&aposs NZ PGA Championship, the USA claimed a 1-2-3 finish as Jim Herman&aposs closing 68 earned him third place on his own. A quartet of Australians shared fourth – Andrew Bonhomme (66 on Sunday) Craig Parry (69), Peter Senior and Stephen Dartnall (68s) along with American Jeff Gove (70) and Kiwi Josh Geary (71). After finishing in a tie for second at the NZ PGA, the up-and-coming Geary was able to bank another sizable cheque and actually held the Open lead early in his round before falling off the pace. The 24-year-old climbed to 14-under with three birdies in his first five holes before finding water on the 6th to make a double bogey. A two-under 34 on the back nine earned him some extra pocket money. Geary earned the distinction of being the highest-finishing Kiwi at consecutive New Zealand Opens following a tie for 12th at the 2007 event. He ended the week two strokes ahead of NZ PGA winner Steve Alker, who closed with a disappointing one-under 71. The top 10 was rounded out by Aussies Adam Bland, Jason Norris and Welshman Richard Johnson, who sent an incredible roar across The Hills in the afternoon when he made a hole-in-one at the 316m par-four 15th. Johnson became the toast – quite literally – of a bulging gallery at the 15th, dubbed the &aposparty hole&apos this week with a public bar set up behind the green to accommodate a festival atmosphere that includes music played in between groups. Even with the pin tucked behind the left-hand bunker, Johnson&aposs tee shot found the bottom of the cup to start an enormous roar that reverberated around the course. Not only does he receive the boost of three-under on one hole, he will also have 1500 bottles of Heineken – the sponsor of the &aposparty hole&apos – shipped to the location of his choosing anywhere in the world. It matched an identical shot by Aussie Steven Jeffriss at the 2007 Open and was the second ace on a par-four in Nationwide Tour history. The first was recorded by Chip Beck – most famous for shooting a 59 on the PGA Tour – at the 2003 Omaha Classic. Amongst all the excitement, it was almost forgotten that the double eagle rocketed Johnson up to within two of the lead. Ironically, he ended up losing more tournament prize money than his new beer bounty was worth by bogeying the 16th and 17th to dip out on a possible fourth-place finish. The Bledisloe Cup for the low amateur of the tournament went to Wellington teenager Peter Spearman-Burn. Burn actually missed the cut on Friday at three-over but returned to the course on Sunday afternoon to receive his trophy.