Jake pockets NZ Open, but not cash
In true-blue Aussie style, newly crowned New Zealand Open champion Jake Higginbottom vowed to celebrate his biggest victory properly.
As an amateur - the first to win the Open in 56 years - Higginbottom gets none of the A$400,000 (NZ$508,000) prize money, but the title and the Brodie Breeze Trophy were his and he was going to enjoy his success.
"I'll probably go out with the boys tonight and have a good time. I've got to play next week as well," the New South Welshman said initially.
"Nah, I'll probably have a big one."
Higginbottom showed none of the nerves he said he was feeling and that most expected would affect his game.
He'd been a consistent performer all week, but his first three rounds of 72, 70 and 72 were good without being great.
He bombed a chance to lead at the midway point when he put his second at 18 into the water.
There was no repeat yesterday as he stiffed his approach to 15 feet giving himself two putts for the win.
Not good enough to make the Australian Eisenhower Trophy team, Higginbottom was all class yesterday at Clearwater.
He made eight birdies in his final-round 67 including five down the stretch.
Clutch putts on the back nine helped him pip countrymen Jason Norris and Peter Wilson into tied second while Mark Brown was the top Kiwi in fourth.
Higginbottom is the first teenager to win the New Zealand Open since an 18-year-old Bob Charles did it in 1954.
He said not having the pressure of being in front made life slightly easier.
"It was good because I knew I had to make birdies," he said.
"It was actually great to be a couple behind after the front nine. I knew I had to go out there and make a few birdies and that's what I did."
While Higginbottom, Norris and Wilson all made birdies on the back nine, Brown went backwards and the third round leader shot a disappointing 73 as his putter let him down.
Higginbottom, like many others, expected Brown to win.
"I thought I'd probably have to shoot a little bit lower to beat Mark, but he didn't hole many putts."
Higginbottom clearly likes the Clearwater course. He was leading amateur at least year's tournament where he finished tied for 22nd, but unlike the past six New Zealand Open winners, he said he'd be back.
All things going to plan, Higginbottom hopes to return as a professional, but he said he's got no problems missing out on the A$72,000 winners' cheque.
"It doesn't worry me. I just think it's another stepping-stone," he said.
Norris said the A$56,400 cheque - half of first and second combined - he and Wilson took home was little consolation to not winning.
"Obviously fantastic to take the money but a bit disappointing. I have never finished runner up behind an amateur, but Jake played great," he said
"It's sort of gut-wrenching to see someone else win even though he didn't get the money, I just wanted the title.
"Coming down the stretch, the last three or four holes I wasn't thinking of the money, which is the first time in my career, I just wanted to win the title."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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