Cutler holds nerve in play-off drama
PAUL CUTLER chuckled when someone quipped he could become Public Enemy No 1 in Rosses Point this morning.
Walker Cup contender Cutler (22) knocked two Co Sligo members out of the West of Ireland Championship yesterday and will try to make it a hat-trick when he faces local bank official Gary McDermott in the semi-final.
It's been 61 years since a son of the host club last won the West, when the legendary Cecil Ewing completed his 10th and final victory at this august championship in 1950.
Not that Cutler's worried.
This confident, quietly spoken young man from Portstewart appeared to relish the atmosphere yesterday as more than 1,500 people followed his quarter-final encounter with Barry Anderson to its thrilling conclusion on the 19th hole.
"More big crowds again tomorrow morning, I'd say," he ventured, relishing his confrontation with Irish panellist McDermott (29), who plays in the semi-finals at the West for the first time.
As Lytham Trophy holder and beaten finalist here in 2007, Cutler clearly was vastly more experienced than his opponent in yesterday morning's third round, Steffan O'Hara (20), the recently crowned Munster Open Youths champion. And he made it pay, winning 5&4.
Yet the accomplished Ulsterman was pushed all the way and then some by fellow Irish international Anderson (20) in a match which even took the chill out of the persistent north-westerly breeze.
Cutler was two-up with four to play, winning 12 with a conceded birdie four and 14, where his opponent three-putted from 15 feet.
Yet, crucially, he'd miss a seven-foot putt for birdie at 15 before throwing Anderson another lifeline with a three-putt bogey at 16.
High drama ensued at 17, where Cutler's tee shot ran through the fairway and into a deep hollow. From there he hit a towering eight-iron which the breeze carried 180 yards over the elevated green and onto a steep grassy bank.
From there, he made a remarkable up-and-down for par and a half, though 'down-and-up' seems more appropriate after he followed a deft chip from on-high by holing a nine-foot uphill putt.
Nerves jangled even louder at 18. First Cutler leaked his drive right and was considering his treacherous second shot when Anderson sent his wedged approach from the left rough scuttling through the green and 20 yards down the bank at the back.
Cutler calmly played a controlled shot into the heart of the green but Anderson turned the tables when he hit the cup with a brilliant chip, his ball bouncing back out to inches. Under pressure, Cutler his 35-foot putt seven feet past and missed the one back. Extra holes required!
Again Anderson seized the advantage, hitting his tee shot at one into mid-fairway, while Cutler's ball finished on the right upslope of the right fairway bunker.
After Anderson's approach pulled-up in the fringe, Cutler then played the shot of the championship.
Choking down on his nine-iron, he held up a phenomenal high draw against the wind and his ball flew 110 yards to six feet for a facile winning par. Match play doesn't get much better than this.
McDermott had a relatively straightforward 5&4 win over Harry Diamond, who literally went from the frying pan, a dramatic 21st-hole victory over Limerick veteran Pat Murray, into the firing line against the red-hot Sligo man.
In the other half, Niall Gorey (31) chipped-in for birdie at 17 to set up a one-hole victory over pre-championship favourite Dermot McElroy in the morning before edging out Craig Martin by the same margin to ease into a semi-final showdown with Rathmore's Alan Dunbar.
Reigning North of Ireland and Irish Amateur Open champion Dunbar's putter is hot. He took just 19 putts in 15 holes (including a three-putt!) as he beat Jack Hume in the morning and must be a warm favourite to reach the final.
Yet Kildare-born Gorey, who moved home and his allegiance from Leinster to Munster last year, halved with Dunbar when they met at the inter-pros and insists he fears no opponent on the golf course -- "except myself".