AUCKLAND, NZ. – Feb. 14, 2005 – Niclas Fasth became the first Swedish golfer to win the Holden New Zealand Open golf championship after he won a dramatic play-off with England's Miles Tunnicliffe at the second extra hole at Gulf Harbour on Sunday.
Fasth took his career wins to seven when he holed a 4m-birdie putt on the par-4 393m 18th hole on their third visit to that green today.
Both had parred it when the sudden-death started, Fasth two-putting but Tunnicliff having to make a superb up-and-down after his approach shot hit a young female spectator on the head, the ball rebounding into trodden rough.
The pair were locked in the lead at 18-under with nine holes to play and both ended the $1.5 million 72-hole tournament on 266, a staggering 22-under par, and four shots ahead of Australians Simon Nash (Queensland) and left-handed Richard Green (Victoria).
Fasth was the clubhouse leader when Tunnicliff stood on the 18th tee needing to birdie the hole to take the tournament into sudden death. The little Englishman had a royal chance to get to 22-under at the par-5 17th, but he missed the putt from a little more than a metre, an astonishing lapse considering how well he had putted over the four days. His putts per round were 28 26 27 and 27.
Fasth, 32, had birdied the 17th, his seventh in a flawless round of 63 which also included an eagle at the par-5 sixth.
At the first extra hole, Fasth put his approach to 6m and ran his birdie attempt just by and Tunnicliffe, after checking on the condition of the girl his approach had hit, composed himself and played a deft chip out of a fluffy lie to within 1.5m. The putt was firm and true.
So it was back to the 18th tee for a third time and this time it was third time lucky for the former European Ryder Cup player who is based at Ascot in England. His previous win on the main European tour was the Madeira Open in 2000 and he has also won five times on the secondary Challenge Tour.
Fasth, ranked 155th in the world, has tried the United States PGA tour without playing to his true potential. In 2001 he was runner-up to David Duval in the 2001 British open at Royal Lytham and St Annes.
Fasth started the championship with rounds of 65 and 63 to lead by two after 36 holes, but a disastrous 75 on Saturday (34 putts) had him four shots behind England's Oliver Wilson and three from Tunnicliff starting the last 18 holes.
But his second 63, 12 shots better than the day before, vaulted him to the top of the leaderboard with Tunnicliff and after their extra holes dueling it was Fasth who took the first purse of $270,000 with Tunnicliff earning $153,000. More importantly both gained valuable points on the European order of merit.
New Zealand's best was Hamilton's Steve Alker. He gave himself every chance of running the leaders down, but while five birdie putts dropped at least another 10 did not.
"You can't be too disappointed with five-under 67. I hardly missed a green and had birdie chances I missed on both the front and back nines. I've been struggling a little bit with my putting and the greens are so good here that you feel you've given a shot away if you miss from 10 to 15 feet."
Alker's 72-hole total of 273 was 15-under par and he improved from a share of 18th overnight to finish tied for seventh. His attention now switches to the Nationwide tour and the Jacobs Creek Classic in Adelaide next week and the New Zealand PGA championship at Clearwater in Christchurch in a fortnight.
He started the year strongly by finishing tied for seventh in the opening event, the BellSouth Panama Championship, and he sees his future on that tour where a top 20 finish would give him his ticket for the full United States PGA tour next year.
Alker said that while he liked to see a country's Open championship move to different courses he said plenty of positives had come out of the inaugural Open to be held at Gulf Harbour.
"Everything from player liaison, to the golf course, to people seeing birdies has to be good for the tournament."
New Zealand's other two professionals to make the cut, seasoned Euorpean tour pro Steve Scahill had eight birdies and one bogey in a closing 65 that lifted him to 17th equal while lefthanded Wellingtonian Gareth Paddison had his best round, a three-under 69, to finish equal 67th.