Thailand’s Thaworn Wiratchant was crowned champion of the Sharjah Senior Golf Masters at on Saturday following a dramatic sudden death play-off lasting four holes.
The Sharjah Senior Golf Masters presented by Shurooq saw Wiratchant edge out first Australia’s Peter Fowler and then America’s Clark Dennis the newly renamed Staysure Tour began an exciting new era in the northern emirate.
“It was really difficult out there today to get the win so I’m so pleased I managed to get over the line and secure the opening event of the Staysure Tour season,” said Wiratchant.
“The pin positions were really difficult today compared to the first two days so it was a real challenge out there.
“I had to be patient in the play-off as we were all hitting good shots every time we played the hole so I needed to keep my focus and wait for my chance. I just knew I had to get the win.”
Fowler, Wiratchant and Dennis were all locked at 12 under par at the end of regulation meaning a trip back up the 18th hole was required to find a winner.
Fowler, who had looked solid all day until making his first bogey since the ninth hole of Thursday’s opening round at the 17th, dropped out first after leaving his par putt short.
Two more trips down the Peter Harradine-designed nine-hole course’s closing hole saw pars apiece for Dennis and Wiratchant.
It’s a good job that the well-loved Sharjah course features floodlights because they were needed as the light faded with still no champion decided.
The fourth playing of the 18th saw Dennis overshoot the green with his approach while Wiratchant found the centre, still some 10 feet from the hole.
Dennis undercooked his chip back onto the green with the ball coming to a stop on the fringe, while Wiratchant lagged his put to within inches and looked to all be over.
There was almost one final moment of drama when Dennis almost chipped in for par, sending a gasp around the watching crowd, but it wasn’t to be and last year’s Order of Merit winner was left to accept the runner up spot as Wiratchant tapped home to claim the $63,750 winner’s cheque in the $425,000 event, making it two in a row for the 51-year-old, who also won the final event of the 2017 season in Mauritius.
“I have never played under floodlights before so that was a new challenge for me,” said the former Asian Tour player.
“Hopefully, I can kick on from here and really concentrate on the year ahead. I’d like to thank all the sponsors and organisers behind the Sharjah Senior Golf Masters. I look forward to returning to Sharjah next year to defend my title. This is a great start to my season.”
The final round was given added excitement with different pins used on each nine and it was Fowler, who started the day two behind Wiratchant and Dennis, who looked to have the momentum, playing the front nine in 33 blows after a birdie at the second and an eagle on the sixth – his third in as many days at the par five hole which was also played as the 15th.
Dennis had a turbulent front nine with consecutive birdies on the third and fourth holes giving way to bogeys on five and seven.
Wiratchant picked up a shot on the fourth and gave it away again on the ninth, meaning Fowler started the second nine with a one-stroke lead.
Dennis then dropped a further shot with a bogey at the 10th and when Fowler birdied the 13th he was three in front of the American and two ahead of the Thai.
But a fascinating final four holes saw the pendulum swing back level with Dennis picking up shots on 15 and 18, Wiratchant making a gain on 15 while Fowler dropped his first shot of the day on 17 meaning the spectators were treated to a truly dramatic conclusion to the first Staysure Tour event of 2018.
His Excellency Marwan bin Jassim Al Sarkal, CEO of the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), said: “The Sharjah Senior Golf Masters has become a symbolic sports event which is increasingly attracting some of the most prominent players from international golf.
“Adding to the emirate’s historic rank for being one of the focal destinations in MENA in the global sport of cricket, we celebrate the first Staysure Tour event of 2018 for strengthening Sharjah’s position as one of the top tier global destinations for the sport of golf, and for global golfers.
“Shurooq will continue in its development of this sport to ensure that Sharjah addresses the needs and demands behind the industry whether it is through sports, tourism or business investments.”
South Africa’s James Kingston finished fourth at eight under while Scotland’s Gary Orr and Argentina’s Mauricio Molina finished tied fifth two shots further back.
The Sharjah Senior Golf Masters presented by Shurooq is set for a spectacular finale with Thaworn Wiratchant and overnight leader Clark Dennis going into the final round with a share of the lead on 11 under par after a low scoring day at Sharjah Golf & Shooting Club.
Thailand’s Wiratchant set the pace early on Friday after a terrific run of five birdies in his first nine holes saw him set the clubhouse target. A further two birdies would follow on the back nine to see the MCB Tour Championship winner signing for a 65.
“My round today was great because I seemed to have control with all my shots,” said Wiratchant.
“I love it here in Sharjah because the weather is hot like Thailand and the course is in exceptional condition. It was easier today because there was less wind and the pin position was better. I came here with no expectations so to be joint-leader going into the final round, I’m very happy.”
Reigning Staysure Tour Order of Merit champion Dennis got off to a slow start with a bogey on the first but the American soon regained the form that saw him light up the opening round as the 52-year-old hit three birdies in his next five holes to put him back in the hunt.
A bogey on the ninth followed by three birdies in his final six holes meant the former PGA Tour player carded a 68 to join Wiratchant at the top of the table, ensuring a captivating final day in the northern emirate is on the cards.
“I played some golf again today but it was definitely more of a struggle than yesterday,” said Clark.
“I didn’t quite have the ‘A’ game but I still managed to hit some good shots on the back nine which gave me a couple of birdies so I’m really glad that I got to 11 under par heading into the final day.
“Tomorrow is a new day and everyone is going to be looking for those birdies. I don’t think that anyone will be trying to protect anything so it should be a low scoring day. Hopefully I can come out tomorrow and execute my game plan and make a few putts.”
Meanwhile, the round of the day went to Australian Peter Flower who made great strides up the leaderboard after shooting a breathtaking course record 64 to leave him nine under par in third place.
The 58-year-old’s best shot of the day came on the 15th where he chipped in for his second consecutive eagle at the par five hole.
“I really like it here. I liked it last year and was looking forward to coming back,” said Fowler.
“I was a long way behind with some good scores this morning and Clark was on pretty hot form as well. I had to put something good together today, which I did, so I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
South African James Kingston is in fourth place after a round of 68 left him four shots adrift of the leaders on seven under par whilst Spaniard Martin Miguel Angel and Englishman Philip Golding complete the top five on six under par after rounds of 70 of 68.
Amateur players Steven Kelbrick and Sharjah Golf & Shooting Club’s Amir Al Naimi carded a 76 and 78 respectively as they once again battled with some of the biggest names of the past. Kelbrick goes into the final round on seven over par with Al Naimi on eight over.
Speaking about the second day of the Sharjah Senior Golf Masters, HE Marwan bin Jassim Al Sarkal added: “We take great pride in the quality and diversity of the players at the Sharjah Senior Golf Masters and this is highlighted by the leaderboard that includes eight different nationalities in the top ten.
“We are proud to showcase Sharjah’s hospitality and the Emirati flair the emirate has to offer. With the competition entering the final round tomorrow, we look forward to seeing the competitiveness on display and are privileged to have Sharjah as the focal point of such an internationally acclaimed sport and competition.”
The opening round of the Sharjah Senior Golf Masters presented by Shurooq saw players, caddies and officials wearing purple to mark the official commencement of the newly named Staysure Tour (formerly the European Senior Tour) at Sharjah Golf & Shooting Club.
It’s the colour of the UK-based insurance company for over 50s which is now the naming sponsor of the tour and it was a fitting choice for American Clark Dennis as last year’s Order of Merit winner hit a veritable purple patch on the stunning Peter Harradine-designed layout on Thursday, firing a bogey-free opening round 65 to roar into the early lead in the northern emirate.
“It’s great. I played very nicely today,” said Dennis. “I didn’t make a bogey and I think I only missed one green. It was a pretty stress-free round, I hit a lot of good shots and could have been a few lower.”
The 52-year-old made an impressive start to the day with three birdies in his opening six holes to set the pace early before lighting up the course on the second loop of the nine-hole track, picking up four birdies in a row from 12 to 15 to get to seven under par.
“It was a really good day and it was a real honour to be able to hit the first shot of the new Staysure Tour in perfect conditions, not a breath of wind for nine holes,” added Dennis.
“The greens are perfect and the course is in phenomenal condition. It’s great to be at the top of the leaderboard – that’s certainly where I want to be at the end of the week.”
Frenchman Marc Farry goes into day two in a share of second place after shooting an opening round of 68. The two-time Staysure Tour winner started the day in red hot form with a front nine of 33 to leave him sitting three under par.
Another three birdies over his first four holes on the back nine put him right in the mix but back to back bogeys on 15 and 16 meant he finished three off the pace at four under par after the opening round.
“I’m very, very happy with the round,” said Farry. “I’ve been working on my short game, especially on my putting the last few weeks in America. The greens are a similar speed and surface to what I have been practising on in Florida.”
England’s Philip Golding and Thailand’s Thaworn Wiratchant joined the 58-year-old in second after also scoring four under par.
England’s Peter Baker and James Kingston of South Africa make up the top five after rounds of three under par left them four off the lead with a further two rounds to play.
Meanwhile, Kingston’s fellow countryman Chris Williams will be hoping for a better second day after the defending champion could only muster level par on the course that yielded his second Staysure Tour title 12 months ago.
“I was a bit disappointed with my performance out there today,” said the South African.
“It’s great to return here as the defending champion but there’s a lot of pressure on my shoulders which made me quite nervous to begin with. I had my chances today but couldn’t take them.”
Amateur Namir Al Naimi, a member at Sharjah Golf & Shooting Club who booked his place in the field via a local qualifier, shot a highly respectable 74 while fellow amateur Steven Kelbrick is one shot further back.
Sharing his thoughts on the first day in Sharjah, His Excellency Marwan bin Jassim Al Sarkal, CEO of Shurooq, said: “The first day of the tournament was kicked off in style.
“We’ve received outstanding feedback from the players about the emirate’s vibrant weather, as well as their joy at returning to the world-class golf course at Sharjah Golf & Shooting Club.”
For more information contact the Sharjah Golf and Shooting Club Academy office on 06 548 7777 or email [email protected]