Everything didn’t go to plan for Aaron Pike on Sunday in the picturesque Hunter Valley north of Sydney. But when it got down to brass tacks in a sudden death play-off with Kiwi Momoka Kobori the Queenslander produced some of his best golf to emerge victorious.
Pike had spoken throughout the week of maintaining his patience and not letting the frustration of playing in difficult conditions after the deluge of rain meant playing the tournament at all was an achievement worthy of praise. The 36-year-old exhibiting the same qualities during a difficult front nine having started the day with a three shot lead.
“I didn't feel like I was doing much wrong to be honest. I wasn't hitting bad shots. I probably wasn't hitting great shots but I certainly wasn't hitting bad shots and then when I gave myself chances they just weren't dropping.
“The old me probably would have got headless and probably blowing up and maybe had two or three-over for the day but I just kept plugging away.”
Plug away he did, birdies at 11 and 13 helping reel in Kobori who at one time led by three on Sunday after four consecutive birdies before making the turn in four-under. Pike made bogey at the 14th to once again make it appear that Kobori would become the second ever woman to win a mixed event on a major Tour around the world before she recorded the same score at the long par-4.
Birdie at the par-5 16th took Pike back to even for the day and eight-under for the tournament, with Kobori playing in the group ahead pulling clear with birdies of her own at the 15th and 17th.
“I didn't waiver from what I was doing, I stuck to my routines, stuck to my process, I hit an awesome wedge shot in there (16) and it zipped back on me, that's what happens when the greens are wet and fast,” Pike said.
“I hit a really good putt. Earlier on in the round I thought I was hitting good putts but they just never looked like they were going in. As soon as I hit that I knew it was right in the middle.
“Then I thought, We're on here, I might be able to sneak another one. The last couple of holes didn't go the right way. I thought I stuffed it into 17 as well but maybe the caddie got the wrong number, but that was me so I can't blame that.”
The soon to be 23-year-old with one hand almost on the trophy before missing a putt from three feet at the 18th hole to send the event into extra time when Pike managed to get up and down from over the back of the green.
The play-off got off to a bad start for both when pulled drives left difficult approach shots. The unlikely pair making pars, a score repeated the second time around before things were finally decided the third time down the 18th hole.
RIGHT: Momoka Kobori fought admirably, but ultimately went home without the trophy on Sunday. PHOTO: Andy Cheung/Getty Images.
Pike hit an approach shot that his roommate for the week Michael Sim thought was going in for an eagle, with Kobori hitting to the back of the green and unable to make a birdie to match. Pike showered with one of the local drops by Sim after picking his ball out of the hole.
“I was just making sure we were drinking the sponsor's product,” he said of checking the label before taking a swig. “Simmy always buys good, I just didn't know what was happening there. I just wanted to make sure.”
The win pushes Pike up the Order of Merit to sixth, with the top-three earning a DP World Tour cards and the lucrative NSW Open to be played this coming week.
The man who jokingly described himself as a “physical specimen” after walking the hilly 18th hole four times on Sunday admitting that the cards have been a major focus of late.
“To be brutally honest it was in my mind before the week even started,” Pike said. “The plan was after the Aussie PGA, once I had a good finish there and that one being the richest event on the calendar, the plan was then to put the foot to the floor and let's see what we can do. I didn't have a goal, I don't have a goal in terms of finishing one, two, five, 10, it was just, 'Let's go'. Play everything, see what we can do and see where we can finish.
"We've got so many opportunities, I knew if I was to just win one, if I was to play well in a NSW Open, these things just leapfrog you ahead of the guys.”
“The old me probably would have got headless and probably blowing up and maybe had two or three-over for the day but I just kept plugging away.” - Aaron Pike.
Five events remain on the schedule for this year for Pike to make up ground on those in front of him, the Northern Territory PGA one of them, the last event won by Pike that had many similarities with this week. Pike winning in a play-off with Sim after a shortened 54-hole tournament.
“I would say it was very similar again here to be brutally honest,” he said of the win. “It was almost identical. Not to sound arrogant to the other competitors but I didns't feel like I played my best but I'm sure they can all say the same.
“That's the key with me. If I can stay patient and stay in the moment, good things can happen.”
With his patient outlook on the game paying dividends, more good things might come sooner rather than later. And he believes the same to be true for the player who he defeated to take the title.
“I couldn't believe she was four-under through nine. I don't know what golf course she was playing. She's obviously playing like a gun at the moment. She's been top-10 in everything that's been on. It's a matter of time until she wins, not if.”
Also in a male-female play-off, Ella Scaysbrook defeated Chun-Ta Wu to take the junior portion of the event after finishing at level par.