An unexpected birdie at 17 and a clutch putt from three feet at the 72nd hole has carried Queenslander Chris Wood to a one-stroke victory at the Victorian PGA Championship at Moonah Links.
Overnight leader James Anstiss shot out to a three-shot lead with birdies at the 3rd and 4th hole but with the might of the Open Course and strong winds keeping the leading players in check the back nine was full of twists and turns.
New South Welshman Blake Windred bobbed his head in front with five holes to play but dropped a shot at 14 that saw him fall back into a four-way tie with Wood, Anstiss and Michael Sim.
Playing in the group ahead, it wasn’t until the 17th hole that Wood realised that he was tied at the top and as he monitored the reactions of the group behind closed with two birdies to claim the first PGA Tour of Australasia title of his career.
“I just knew that 6-iron wasn’t getting there and the front bunkers were a no-go zone so I hit 5 and just tried to give myself a putt,” Wood said of his tee shot from 164 metres at the par-3 17th.
“It was a pretty good shot actually but I wasn’t really trying to hit it that close. I was just trying to get it on the green.
“On 16 I was very aware of what they were doing. I was up on the 17th green and I knew that the boys hit it in there fairly close. I just listened to the crowd and nobody really clapped for a birdie. I knew that they’d missed it and I had a great chance on 17 for a birdie.
“It went in end over end and was probably the purest roll I hit all week. That’s when I got nervous, walking to the 18th tee knowing I’m one in front. I know 17’s a hard hole, they’re going to have to hit a great shot in there to make birdie.
“I just tried to have two more good swings on 18, dump it on the green and two-putt and that’s what I did.”
Winner of the 2017 Morobe Open in PNG, Wood posted 20 under and then had to watch and wait as the final group all chased the eagle that would have forced a playoff, birdies by Anstiss and Sim leaving Wynnum Golf Club’s latest hero one shot clear at the top.
“It’s been a whole bag of mixed emotions but at the moment just so happy with how I hung in there all week and kept my emotions in check,” said Wood, whose final day five-under 67 was bettered only by veteran Michael Wright (66) and Victorian David Micheluzzi (66).
“From 18 onwards to now nervous and then an anxious wait. Then when the boys didn’t make the eagles up the last to force a playoff just happy and a sigh of relief to finally get a win.”
Starting the last round at 18-under par and one shot in front, Anstiss described the birdie by Wood at 17 as “ridiculously good” as he wrestled with a putter that failed to fire on the final day.
“I just never really got any momentum going,” Anstiss said. “Obviously I made a few birdies early and was going nicely. I hit the flag on two and it ricocheted and came back and I ended up making par but I was two under through four and just chipping away.
“Really never got the putter warmed up; missed a couple of short opportunities on the front. Didn’t hole enough in that six-10 foot range today.
“Obviously you’re trying to make some birdies but at the same time it’s so easy to make a mistake and make a bogey that you are playing for par sometimes.
“I saw after the 15th hole that all four of us were at 18 under so obviously it was tight and no one could really get away. Then Chris birdied 17 which is just ridiculously good because that was playing very tough and then birdied the last.”
Tied for third at the Moonah Classic in 2009, Sim battled to stay in the mix over the front nine and was pleasantly surprised to find himself with no one ahead with only four holes left to play after making birdie at the par-4 14th.
He lipped out for birdie on 15 and had good looks again at 16 and 17 but just couldn’t find that extra shot to draw level with his fellow Queenslander.
“I had my chances coming in but I was just proud of myself for how I grinded out the front nine just to give myself a chance there at the end,” said the 36-year-old.
“It was a bit of a grind for me the front side. I got the ball up and down quite a bit but James and Blake were hitting the ball well.
“James probably could have made a couple more putts but it was hard to know what Chris was doing in front because there was only one leaderboard driving around in a cart.
“I didn’t really look at the leaderboard until the 17th tee when it was right in front of us and I saw Chris make two and go to 19 under.
“I was just trying to focus on what I was doing. I wasn’t really trying to focus on winning the tournament just because I struggled so much the front nine with my ball-striking.”
The PGA Tour of Australasia stays at Moonah Links for the return of the Moonah Classic to the schedule, the Open Course to resume its hosting duties for four days starting on Tuesday.