Pearce yet another New Zealander in the winners circle

BY Bruce Young | Australasian PGA Tour | 2003 New Zealand Open | Wrap | 20 Jan 2003
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The New Zealand Open, the first event of 2003 on the Australasian Tour, has produced a first time winner in Dunedin professional Mahal Pearce. Pearce, who in recent times has resided in Wellington in order that he may team up with one of New Zealand’s leading coaches in Mal Tongue, has been slowly but surely been improving his standing in the game, more especially of late.

After finishing tied second at the New South Wales Open at the Horizons Resort in November he went on to produce further solid, if not spectacular, finishes at the three big pre-Christmas events in Australia and, while this win may have been unexpected by most, it should not be taken in isolation.

He began his last round two strokes behind Queenslander Chris Downes and was in ’the zone’ early with a good opening drive followed by further good tee shots at the second and third. The shot that likely settled the early nerves the most was his second to the par five fourth. From 181 metres him his four iron covered the flag and when it settled five meters from the flag the sigh of relief from Pearce was almost audible, especially when his playing partner Downes three putted for a bogey. Pearce missed the fairway at the dangerous par four fifth but got a lucky break by hitting a spectator and finished in a good lie in the area where the crowd had been walking. From there he rifled a six iron to three meters left of the flag and made it for another birdie and when Downes three putted again all the lead was his.

Downes bounced back with a fine birdie at the par three seventh and kept himself in the mix with another at the long par five ninth where he produced a magnificent second to six meters. A two putt birdie to him saw him close the gap on Pearce but a soft bogey at the short (100 meters) tenth saw him lose touch somewhat especially after he had bogied the eleventh.

Pearce on the other hand was rock solid until the twelfth where he missed the fairway but was delighted to find on reaching the ball that a shot through a narrow gap did exist. He pitched to within a meter for another birdie and perhaps put paid to any hopes that those behind had. Downes also matched the birdie of Pearce but the momentum and perhaps the golfing gods, were now well and truly with Pearce.

Another blemish came at the sixteenth where he again missed the fairway, but given the lead he now enjoyed there was no way he was to take any chances from the trees. A chip out and an ordinary third resulted in a bogey but it would take a major disaster at that stage for the title to be taken from him. A fine drive at the seventeenth left him but a seven iron second to the 480 metre par five. He caught a flyer from the first cut of rough and trickled through the green and although his first attempt came back at his feet he was able to get up and down for a par and a four shot lead over Brett Rumford who had put together a last round 68 to leapfrog Downes and others.

The par four eighteenth contains arguably the toughest tee shot on the course requiring a right to left shaped shot to hit the fairway. Pearce did nothing to disprove its difficulty by driving his first out of bounds and all of a sudden the lead was in reality just two. A change back to the three iron allowed him to take the fairway bunkers out of play but it would be no easy task avoiding another disaster from 180 meters where his second attempt at the tee shot finished. That he was able to produce a superb shot to hit the green under what for him must have been the most immense pressure signalled that he was a golfer with heart as well as game and when he had two putted for double bogey he was the winner by two.

A win of this nature opens up the chance to play all the Australasian events and he will no doubt be one of those golfers who irrespective of whatever comes his way in the future can always claim a victory in his national open. He becomes the sixth New Zealander in the last seven years to win the title following on from Michael Long, Greg Turner, Matthew Lane, Michael Campbell and David Smail.

For Chris Downes there was disappointment but from what I observed in my role as on course commentator for television at the event he has a great game and very importantly a great demeanour on course. Even in the face of adversity he displayed the traits that will see him develop into a very fine golfer. He may have let this one get away but there will be many more opportunities for him and it is my opinion that the name Downes will become a regular feature on leader boards worldwide.

Brett Rumford produced one of his best finishes as a professional on his third anniversary of turning to the money ranks. It may be just the boost of confidence he needs as he heads into 2003 without being fully qualified for Europe.

The disappointments of the event were the pre-tournament favourites Michael Campbell, Phil Tataurangi and Gareth Padisson. Campbell faded over the final eighteen when most felt he was the one who would take control over the final stages. His last round 75 left him back at four under six behind the winner. Tataurangi never really got into contention throughout the event and Padisson backed off from a winning position early in round four to finish equal with Campbell.

Padisson has the game and talent to develop into one of New Zealand’s best ever players but the one area that needs work is to learn to slow down in the heat of the battle. In the few occasions I have seen him in contention he has had a tendency to get ahead of himself and the adrenalin rush is almost visible. He has all the skills however and has the capacity to shoot low numbers.

The event was a significant success riding on the back of New Zealand golf’s most successful year ever. The crowd on the last day was the largest I have seen at any New Zealand Open and reflects a great future for the game there.

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    About the Author: Bruce Young

    A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of the game comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.

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