Date: February 17, 2008
Author: Dean Wedlake at Clearwater Golf Club

Stiles claims NZ PGA title

American Darron Stiles endured a nerve-wracking 18th hole to claim victory by a single stroke at the 2008 HSBC NZ PGA Championship in Christchurch. The tournament, reduced to 36 holes due to torrential rain that lashed the Clearwater course on Friday and Saturday, was Stiles&apos to lose after eight holes when he was four clear of the field. However, mid-round putting wobbles and a birdie blitz from Kiwi David Smail meant the 34-year-old had to work hard right until the final putt. Coming to the 18th one shot ahead of Smail, Stiles found the fairway, hit his approach on the fringe of the green then had the crowd in suspense as he left his long putt eight feet short. He then sucked in the deep breaths and calmly rolled it in to complete a 36-hole total of 10-under 132, thus avoiding a playoff as the light grew dimmer around 7:20pm on the Clearwater course. Smail was outstanding on Sunday in shooting a six-under 66 – the best round of the day – to finish one back, but was left to rue his only dropped shot which came at the par-three 16th when he three-putted from 40 feet. “Nine under was actually the score that I was thinking of (at the start of the day). If I could get to it I thought I might be close,” Smail said. “I was actually a little bit concerned as I hadn&apost played a tournament this year and after two days off it was like &aposhow am I going to get started again&apos but it seemed to go pretty well.” Starting the day in a tie for the lead at six-under with countryman Matt Bettencourt and Canadian David Hearn, Stiles reeled off five birdies in his first six holes to open up a daunting lead at 11-under. However, a sloppy three-putt bogey at the par-three ninth, his only blemish on the day where he missed a two-footer for par, opened the door for the chasers which included Smail and Aussie veteran Adam Crawford. Stiles&apos overnight co-leaders blew right off the radar, with Bettencourt shooting a 75 to finish in a disappointing tie for 28th while Hearn saw his prizemoney fly away even faster when his 77 saw a drop down to equal 48th. American Rick Price&aposs 69 earned him third spot on his own at eight-under, followed by Crawford in fourth and Argentine Sebastian Fernandez fifth equal with Americans Kris Blanks, D.A Points and Chris Schultz at six-under. The best of the Kiwi hopes started as Doug Holloway at four-under, but a topsy-turvy round containing four birdies and five bogies saw him finish in a tie for 28th at three-under. Another New Zealander to struggle on Sunday was Michael Campbell. Starting the day at two-under, the mercurial former major winner birdied his first hole to build up the hopes of the massive gallery following him, but followed that with a double bogey and five more dropped shots and eventually signed for a 77 that dropped him down into a tie for 103rd. Because the weather-effected event was reduced to 36 holes, it will not count as an official victory on either the Australasian or Nationwide Tours, although prize money will be recognised. The win was Stiles&apos fifth on the Nationwide Tour, making him the fourth most successful of all time behind a trio including Australian Matt Gogel who have won six titles.