HATS OFF!

English­man Paul Wes­sel­ingh de­fends his MCB Tour Cham­pi­onship ti­tle after a six-hole play­off at Con­stance Belle Mare Plage in Mau­ri­tius.

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Contents 2/ 15 - By Barry Havenga

Six-hole Euro Se­nior Tour play­off in Mau­ri­tius.

ou’ve seen it on tele­vi­sion count­less times, a tour­ing pro­fes­sional with a one-shot lead on the fi­nal green sim­ply two-putting from 20 feet, be­fore rais­ing his arms in tri­umph and ac­knowl­edg­ing the crowd. Ex­cept on this oc­ca­sion for de­fend­ing cham­pion Paul Wes­sel­ingh he had to wait 90 min­utes be­fore the adu­la­tion of back-to-back wins in the sea­son-end­ing Mau­ri­tius Com­mer­cial Bank Tour Cham­pi­onship.

Nerves over­came the English­man on the fi­nal hole of the Legend Course at Belle Mare Plage. Play­ing with overnight leader David Frost in the fi­nal group, he three-putted the par 5 from 20 feet to fall into a tie with com­pa­triot Barry Lane. And the two of them had to play the hole a fur­ther six ex­cru­ci­at­ing times.

While Wes­sel­ingh is no house­hold name, he has now racked up seven wins in his three years on the Euro­pean Se­nior Tour. In 2011 the club pro from Derby pre­pared him­self for over-50 play and won in his first sea­son (2012) be­fore tak­ing Rookie of the Year hon­ours. In 2013 he won four times in­clud­ing the MCB Tour Champs, go­ing on to claim the Or­der of Merit ti­tle. Fur­ther suc­cess eluded Wes­sel­ingh in the first half of 2014 as he failed to post a top-10 in the first 10 events. But a three-hole play­off vic­tory over Bern­hard Langer in Ger­many in Septem­ber saw Wes­sel­ingh turn his year around.

The Wes­sel­ingh fam­ily, in­clud­ing their three sons, de­scended upon Belle Mare Plage to be dis­tracted by the re­sort’s nu­mer­ous leisure and beach ac­tiv­i­ties. But Paul meant business in the fi­nal round, mak­ing four birdies be­tween the sev­enth and 12th to snatch a twoshot lead over Frost.

His birdie at the par-4 12th was a stroke of luck which meant the dif­fer­ence be­tween vic­tory and de­feat. After a skied tee shot with a hy­brid, Wes­sel­ingh needed another hy­brid to reach the pro­tected green. But he pulled the ap­proach, the ball com­ing to rest close to a wa­ter haz­ard, on a bare lie un­der a tree. From there he thinned his chip shot. The ball was hurtling across the green to­wards another wa­ter haz­ard, and a likely dou­ble-bo­gey, only to strike the pin and drop into the hole. As did Frost’s heart. He missed a 15-foot birdie

putt to fall three be­hind.

As much as Wes­sel­ingh had the lux­ury of win­ning with a par at 18 in reg­u­la­tion play, Lane could con­ceiv­ably have won the ti­tle him­self, hav­ing missed a short birdie putt at 17 and an ea­gle chance at the last. The 54-year-old Lane had bat­tled ill­ness and a crook back ear­lier in the week, but closed with a bo­gey-free 67 to post the club­house lead.

Tour­na­ment golf suf­fers when play­offs are held ex­clu­sively on a par-5 fin­ish­ing hole, es­pe­cially one which is com­fort­ably reach­able in two shots. Although Wes­sel­ingh and Lane played su­perbly to birdie the first five ex­tra holes, the ex­cite­ment was strangely lack­ing, as if a more chal­leng­ing hole was re­quired to pro­vide a win­ner.

At the sixth time of ask­ing it was Lane’s turn to ca­pit­u­late on the 18th green. After a weak chip, Lane charged his birdie putt and missed the re­turn from four feet, al­low­ing Wes­sel­ingh to tap in for par with dark­ness en­croach­ing. The epic bat­tle equalled the record for the long­est play­off in Euro Se­nior Tour his­tory, match­ing Gor­don J Brand’s

de­feat of name­sake Gor­don Brand Jr in the 2008 De Vere Se­nior PGA Cham­pi­onship.

“I feel like I’ve been through a wringer,” said a re­lieved Wes­sel­ingh after- wards. “I was dis­ap­pointed when I came off after reg­u­la­tion play. I felt I had done enough, but the nerves just got to me. Frosty said some nice words to me, which helped me fo­cus for the play­off.”

As Frost watched the play­off from the Deer Hunter restau­rant deck be­hind the 18th green, he would have been be­rat­ing him­self for fin­ish­ing one shot shy. The 55-year-old took a one-shot (69-68) lead over Wes­sel­ingh into the fi­nal round, but was left frus­trated on the greens as the English pair passed him. Frost failed to add to his five Cham­pi­ons Tour vic­to­ries in 2014, and it was worth ask­ing him if the twotime cham­pion here (2010 and 2012) was find­ing it more of a chal­lenge to com­pete as each new year dawned.

“Noth­ing’s changed,” said Frost con­fi­dently. “My com­pet­i­tive drive is still there and I have main­tained good fit­ness. I still be­lieve I have the tem­per­a­ment to pull off the big shots at the right time. It just didn’t work out for me to­day.”

The South African has an un­ri­valled record at Belle Mare Plage with six con­sec­u­tive top-5 fin­ishes, and has bro­ken par 16 times in 18 rounds.

Paul Wes­sel­ingh with

en­thu­si­as­tic Belle Mare Plage cad­dies.

David Frost and Con­stant

Visser.

Paul and Ryan

Wes­sel­ingh.

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