It took a playoff and a stroke of good fortune but Aaron Pike has claimed a popular home-town win at the Tailor-Made Building Services NT PGA Championship at Palmerston Golf and Country Club.
The course where he played his junior golf, Pike was the sentimental favourite going into the final round but had to get past one of his house guests for the week to claim the iconic crocodile head trophy and a second ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia title.
Starting the final round level at the top with New South Wales amateur Nathan Barbieri, Pike’s chip-in for eagle helped to propel him to a four-stroke lead midway through the front nine. He maintained a three-shot buffer until a late surge from Michael Sim narrowed the gap at the top of the leaderboard.
A birdie putt from 12 feet at the par-4 15th got Sim back to within two of his host but it wasn’t until he holed a bunker shot at the par-3 16th that the prospect of winning suddenly seemed possible.
“I looked at the leaderboard at 13 and saw Aaron was at 12 and I was 9 and I didn’t birdie the par-5 13th,” Sim said, his final round of 6-under 65 the best of the day.
“I really thought my chances would be gone but I got a good lie after pushing my drive at 15 and hit a sand wedge to 12 feet and made that one and then I holed out from the bunker on the par 3 16th.
“That got me right into it. Before I knew it I’d gone from 9 to 11.
“I never really thought I was in the tournament until 17 tee.”
An approach shot to eight feet at the final hole set up a third birdie in the space of four holes that would give Sim the clubhouse lead at 12-under, Pike missing his own birdie chance from 15 feet on the final hole to necessitate another trip down the 18th.
Both players failed to find the fairway with their tee shots and when Sim caught a flyer with a 9-iron out of the rough from 136m and ran out of golf course, Pike was left with a relatively simple task to make par and claim victory.
“Winning is always special, winning around here is going to mean that little bit more,” admitted Pike, one of only three players to break 70 in all three rounds this week.
“I had my oldest brother Michael caddieing for me so that’s something that I’m unlikely to ever get the opportunity to go through again.
“I had all my family watching so it does mean a little bit more, I just could never acknowledge that until the end.
“Obviously the playoff didn’t go Simmy’s way but I still had to do my part and had to finish the hole off.”
Forced to come from behind to win the 2018 Victorian PGA Championship at RACV Cape Schanck, Pike said that the handy lead he opened up early in his round brought about a heightened sense of focus rather than adopting a conservative approach.
“If anything it probably made me knuckle down a bit more, purely because I thought with a bit of a lead I could easily lose my focus and get ahead of myself,” said Pike, who narrowly missed birdie opportunities at 13, 16, 17 and 18 that would have sealed the title in regulation.
“It made me stop and realise that it’s one shot at a time, let’s get this going and do what we need to do.
“I made a conscious effort to say to myself that I’ve played this golf course more than anyone else here, I know what to do around this golf course, let myself make the decision, trust the decision and go from there.
“I really forced myself to back my decision making and trust everything that I was doing.”
Despite an unfortunate finish that he described as “shattering”, Sim praised the work Pike has done to clinch a tournament win so close to home.
“Aaron’s been playing well,” said Sim of Pike’s recent wins at Maroochy River and Southport pro-ams.
“I know he’s been working hard on his body and his game, he’s been practising quite hard over the past month or so.
“It’s a credit to him to put it all together this week and have a win on his home course.”
Barbieri recovered nicely from his opening double-bogey to finish tied for third along with Deyen Lawson three shots out of the playoff with Justin Warren (68) and Anthony Quayle (66) finishing fifth and sixth respectively.
201: Aaron Pike*, Michael Sim
204: Nathan Barbieri (a), Deyen Lawson
205: Justin Warren
206: Anthony Quayle
207: Jed Morgan (a)
208: Michael Wright, Jordan Mullaney
209: Lawry Flynn (a), Josh Clarke, Bradley Doherty
* Pike won on the first playoff hole