BLAIRGOWRIE teenager Bradley Neil has been tipped to bounce back quickly from the “disappointment” of being pipped for the South African Amateur Open Stroke-Play Championship.
One shot ahead of the field heading into the final round at Benoni Country Club, the Scottish Boys’ champion closed with a level-par 72 to finish joint-second after South African Jason Smith signed off with a 69 and a 14-under-par total.
“I’m pretty disappointed because I played my poorest round on the final day,” said Neil, who was level with Smith with two holes to play but ran up a costly bogey at the 17th before both players finished with birdies in a thrilling finish.
“I feel that I let myself down, but all credit to Jason, though,” added the 18-year-old, who joined forces with European Tour rookie of the year Peter Uihlein to finish joint-second in the team event during last season’s Dunhill Links Championship.
“Out there you are trying your hardest to win and Jason held up best under pressure; he was a fierce competitor and deserved the win.”
Smith pulled level with the talented young Scot after six holes, before another home challenger, Stefan Cronje, leapt ahead with a stunning ace at the par-3 12th. It was tight until the finish, but bogeys at the 15th and 17th ultimately cost Neil dear as he finished on 13-under.
Smith called the day the toughest rounds of his life, but also the most rewarding. “This is undoubtedly the greatest moment of my career, but it was so tough out there,” he said. “I am absolutely drained, but it was so worth it.”
Cronje closed with a par for a 70 to share second with Neil and Irishman Dermot McElroy, who signed for a 71.
While a player who will never settle for second best, this was another solid display from Neil after his third-place finish in the Gauteng North Open.
“It was a great performance from Bradley and a win is just around the corner for him, two top-3s is a great start to the year,” said national coach, Ian Rae, who is with the ten-player group in the Rainbow Nation. “It was a good event for the squad’s younger players, with six guys under 21 finishing in the top 32.”
British Boys champion Ewen Ferguson (Bearsden) finished in a tie for 19th, with Scott Gibson (Southerness) tied for 21st. Jamie Savage (Cawder), Robert Mac Intyre (Glencruitten) and Connor Syme (Dumfries & County) also placed inside that top 32.