Prodigious Pugh holds nerve
Rhys Pugh, a 17-year-old golfing prodigy from Pontypridd in South Wales, showed precisely why he's considered a shoo-in for September's Walker Cup as he defied howling gales at Royal Dublin yesterday to win the Irish Amateur Open.
Pugh's name joins those of British Open champions Padraig Harrington and Louis Oosthuizen on the trophy after he beat Gordon Stevenson (22) by four in a three-hole play-off.
The two men had tied on six-over par, their aggregate of 294 for 72 holes the highest by the winner of the Irish Amateur Open since the championship was revived in 1995, which illustrates how tough the links had played in south-easterly winds that gusted to well over 30mph yesterday.
Stevenson paid the richest compliment to the winner, saying: "Rhys and I had a great game today. Unfortunately, a poor tee shot on 17 (in the play-off) cost me it. Full credit to him. He took his opportunity and it was ballsy of him to make his par at the last in regulation to force the play-off."
The Scot's victory hopes expired when he blocked his tee shot right and out of bounds on his way to a triple-bogey seven at 17 after they'd both played 16 in par. He also took seven at 18, his 4-7-7 score for the three play-off holes well beaten by Pugh's 4-5-5.
Paul Dunne just missed a place in extra-time after his 15-foot putt for par lipped out at the last. He settled, instead, for a share of third place with Daan Huizing (20) of the Netherlands.
Yet the Greystones teenager could take rich satisfaction from a level-par 72, the best of the final round, in his last 18 holes of competitive golf before taking a break to sit his Leaving Certificate at Blackrock College.
"I played well this afternoon and it was good to be back in contention," said Dunne, who rebounded from dropped shots at 13 and 15 by holing out from eight feet for birdie at 16.
Six-over going to the last, Dunne knew he trailed Stevenson by one and was tied with Pugh as he took on The Garden with a two-iron, which landed in the left rough, 60 yards short.
His lob-wedge approach drifted a little on the breeze, leaving Dunne with a 15-footer for par. The putt was well struck but rolled off the lip and he tapped-in for bogey to share the lead in the clubhouse with Huizing.
Huizing summed up the mental and physical effect of playing 36 holes in one day in such difficult conditions after surrendering the championship lead with a double-bogey six at the last. "All your energy just blows away with the wind," he said.