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