Western Australian Rick Kulacz has held his nerve when it mattered most to claim the South Coast Open at Moruya Golf Club.
On an afternoon when it seemed the winner could come from anywhere, it was Kulacz who fared best, coming home with a withering eagle-birdie-par finish for a five-under 66 and a two-round total of eight-under to claim a two-shot victory.
However, for much of the day, it seemed the tournament was overnight leader Martin Dive's for the taking. Starting the day with a two-shot lead, the Ryde Parramatta's bomber looked to be comfortably cruising to victory.
Although the challengers were queuing up behind, birdies on the 1st and 8th saw Dive stretch his lead to three by the turn.
Despite a bogey on the 12th, trouble was lurking, and when Dive rinsed his tee shot on the dogleg 15th, flew the green with his third, then speared the resulting chip almost off the front of the green, Moruya had well and truly bitten back.
Dive had no comeback with holes running out, and with a southerly buster smashing the course late, a final-hole birdie was just about all he could do to remain in the top three.
Anthony Choat, Dive's playing partner in the final group, who for much of the day looked like the man most likely, had a back nine to forget, dropping out of contention.
Daniel Gale backed his opening 68 up with a second three-under effort to finish second; while Aaron Wilkin, Michael Wright, Deyen Lawson, Daniel Fox, Matthew Millar, and Dive finished tied for third at five under.
It was Kulacz, however, who was the man of the moment and clearly relieved in the end to take the win.
"It was good in the end. I finished well and everybody seemed to go backwards late," Kulacz said.
"To be honest, and it's a bit of a cliché, I was just trying to hit good shots on every hole. I didn't do it all day, but I did it late." – Rick Kulacz
Kulacz admitted playing several groups in front of the leaders helped his focus enormously and said maintaining it through the final few holes had paid off handsomely.
"To be honest, and it's a bit of a cliché, I was just trying to hit good shots on every hole," Kulacz said.
"I didn't do it all day, but I did it late. I rolled in a couple, and that took the heat off me.
"I was kind of stressing about 16 down the hill, but I drove it really well and hit a 2-iron to the middle of the green and holed it for eagle."
Energised by his finish, Kulacz admitted he felt confident of the victory walking off the final green at eight under.
"I thought eight (under) would be close when I finished," Kulacz said.
Compared to the previous three regional open events where the two-round scores had been in the double digits, Kulacz said the testing Moruya layout had played far more challenging than many of the players had expected.
"There was a little bit more breeze, the pins were tucked, and the greens definitely were a bit firmer," Kulacz said.
"It's harder to get it close here, and it's hard to make birdies; very easy to make mistakes.
"It's my type of golf, I like it like this more, unlike courses where you have to try and birdie every hole."
Kulacz, already a NSW Open champion, will be back at Concord this year, courtesy of his place last week at Queanbeyan.
"It was a long time ago," he smiled when asked about his NSW Open win. "But I still remember.
"It was a good few weeks for me, good memories. Hopefully, I'll play well this year as well."