THE final round of the Coca Cola Queensland PGA Championship at the City Golf Club again raised the question as to how big a lead is enough heading into the final round of a professional tournament.
Four or five shot leads have proven on occasions to be an uncomfortable margin but anything larger is considered by most to be too great and perhaps 'a bridge too far' for the chasers.
In Toowoomba yesterday, however, we saw an eight shot margin, which became nine early in the final round, disappear in what appeared to be the blink of an eye.
New Zealand’s Daniel Pearce, until yesterday, had not won an event on the PGA Tour of Australasia.
He took a seemingly unassailable lead into the final round in Toowoomba when he moved eight shots clear through 54 holes.
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The City Golf Club’s layout has proven to be a fruitful one for long hitters over the years with players such as Steven Bowditch, Ryan Fox and last year Tim Hart (runner-up) all taking advantage of the many holes over the City Golf Club that provide a comfort zone for the longer hitter of which Pearce is certainly one.
When the 28-year-old birdied his opening hole in round four his lead was nine and surely, if there had been even a scrap of doubt pre-round, it would be a one-horse race from there.
Tournament golf, however, works in strange ways with all sorts of dynamics working for and against a player.
Just eight holes and two hours later, Pearce walked from the 9th green sharing the lead with the consistent and much shorter hitter, Mathew Millar.
Millar himself had done much of the damage to Pearce’s control of the tournament with an outward nine of 5 under 28.
But almost inexplicably, Pearce was playing a role in his own demise. Bogeys at the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th had him just one ahead and when playing partner Millar birdied the 9th they were tied as they headed to the 10th tee.
There was a strange and subdued feeling amongst those following the final trio of Pearce, Millar and Victorian Adam Burdett as the possibility of such a margin being whittled away so quickly put a cloud of sorts over proceedings.
Burdett would also throw his hat into the ring when he played the front nine in 29 and at the turn he was just one shot behind both Pearce and Millar.
Pearce appeared to steady the ship when he hit a massive drive and short iron to tap-in distance at the uphill par-5 10th and when he converted for eagle it appeared the two-shot margin he had recreated was both a mathematical and physcological buffer that would get him back on track.
Pearce, though, could not add to his week-long total of 25 birdies and three eagles over the closing holes and as Millar closed the gap with birdies at the 13th, 15th and 17th, the pair headed to the final hole all tied up at 20 under par.
Both would make a mess of the par-418th (or 72nd hole) after they missed the fairway and then the green and were unable to get up and down to save par.
It would take three playoff holes to separate the pair and establish a new Coca Cola Queensland PGA Champion, that coming when Millar found the fairway bunker from the tee and could then not get up and down from well short of the green.
Pearce still had to two putt from 65 feet and up a gentle tier but his putt stopped a foot from the hole and when he holed that for par and the title, you could almost hear the sigh of relief from him and those who had been following his fortunes all day.
While Pearce indicated he had felt calm all day, a loss from what had appeared an unassailable position may well have left a scar that would have stayed with him for a long time and created self-doubt if he ever got into that situation again.
“I am over the moon and kind of lost for words," said the champion. "I felt calm and peaceful all day. It was a tough day and not how I wanted to do it but knew I just had to keep plugging away.
“I didn’t really hit too many bad shots either - just a couple that weren’t great and a couple of unlucky bounces and all of a sudden I had four bogeys in a row and Matt had five birdies and before I knew it we were tied.
“It was what it was and I am happy with the result and it is just awesome. The win means a lot.
“Winning is something that doesn’t happen a lot when you are a golfer and to get the win is just great and I am very happy.”
The win was even more important for Pearce as he slowly but surely establishes himself in the professional ranks and after the arrival of he and wife Sarah’s first child, Lola, just a few months ago.
They were amongst the first people he called after his win.
“I rang my wife quickly so it was nice to hear her voice and have a chat and heard the baby yelling in the background which was cute and am looking forward to talking to everyone soon.”
The outcome could well be the catalyst for the impressive ball striker’s career to quickly go from strength to strength but if the outcome of the playoff had been different then it might well have been a hit that Pearce would have found difficult to overcome.
Fortunately for the New Zealander, the former was the case.
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