Higginbottom storms to victory in NZ Open
The Kiwi winning drought continues.
Kiwi golfer Mark Brown has been unable to fend off the Australians in the final round of the New Zealand Open at Clearwater in Christchurch today as 19-year-old amateur Jake Higginbottom stormed to victory.
The Australian closed with a five-under par 67 to finish at seven-under for the tournament and win by a shot from compatriots Jason Norris and Peter Wilson, who made it an Australian trifecta.
Higginbottom becomes the first amateur to win the New Zealand Open since compatriot Harry Berwick in 1956 - a player he had understandably never heard of - and the first teenager to win since a certain Sir Bob Charles triumphed in 1954.
His amateur status precludes him from collecting the $A80,000 winner's cheque, though, with Wilson and Norris to split the total prize money for first and second.
"I feel great at the moment, it means a lot to me. I don't think it's quite sunk in yet," said Higginbottom, who has already enjoyed a successful amateur career despite his tender age and is rated as one of Australian golf's most exciting current prospects.
"There were a few slips but I just tried to stay calm and keep my nerve and I made a few putts coming home."
Higginbottom said the fact he could not collect the winner's cheque "doesn't worry me". He still plans to turn professional at the end of next year and would definitely be back to defend his title, probably as a professional.
Brown, who had a three-shot lead heading into the final round, led by two after turning in one-under but his short game let him down with bogeys at the par-three 11th and par-four 13th.
He signed for a one-over 73 and finished as the leading New Zealander in fourth place at four-under par, having had high hopes of being the first New Zealand to win the Open since Mahal Pearce at Middlemore in 2003.
The 37-year-old's ball striking was good all week - he hit 53 of 72 greens - but was left to rue a cold putter again.
"I played well enough," he said.
"I played beautifully for the first 10 holes, I didn't miss a shot really and only holed one putt. I had 34 putts for the day so that's never going to win a golf tournament so it probably proves that you can't win a golf tournament with your long game.
"You're going to have to hole a few putts and today that didn't happen so it was frustrating because it seems to be happening quite a bit lately."
"I think I had 33 (greens in regulation) for the last 36 holes so a lot of chances but when you don't take them you won't win on a Sunday.
"It's just frustrating. It's probably been a career thing for me so I've just got to get better if I want to reach the goals that I want to reach. But I'll go away and work hard and try and get better."
In contrast to the Wellingtonian, Higginbottom just could barely do anything wrong after a bogey at the par-five 10th.
He birdied No 11, 13, 14 and 15 and after a bogey at the 16th he stuffed his approach to four feet at the par-four 17th. A par on the last sealed victory.
There were also final day charges from Norris, who had back-to-back six-under 66s at the weekend to claim second after opening with a 77 on Thursday, and Wilson, who closed with a four-under 68 playing in the final group alongside Brown and Higginbottom, but they had to settle for second equal.