Sam Walker wins in play-off as Spey Valley is washed out on final day
BAD weather may have forced the Scottish Hydro Challenge to be reduced to 54 holes, but it certainly wasn’t a case of organsiers throwing in the towel at Macdonald Spey Valley. Exactly the opposite, in fact.
In a desperate bid to get the final round played, a supply of towels was whisked in from the tournament host’s hotels in the Highland resort and used to cover some of the saturated greens in an attempt to dry them out.
It proved to be a losing battle and, after a five-hour delay without a shot being struck, European Challenge Tour officials reluctantly decided to scrap the last day’s play in the £220,000 event.
To get a winner, the joint overnight leaders, English duo Sam Walker and Simon Wakefield, went head-to-head in a play-off, with the former coming out on top with a birdie at the third time of asking on the 18th.
It was Walker’s second win in the event, the 34-year-old from Birmingham having also landed the spoils in its inaugural staging at Murcar Links, where it was played over the full distance.
While the stunning Dave Thomas-designed course on the banks of the River Spey had avoided the bad weather in some parts of the country on the opening three days, that changed on Saturday night and the heavy rain continued to fall yesterday morning.
“I knew when my phone rang at 4.55am this morning that we had a problem and, despite the outstanding efforts put in by the greenkeepers and more than 40 volunteers, who worked tirelessly all morning, it was with much regret that we had to take this decision,” said tournament director Kevin Feeney of the last round being lost.
“The problem we had was that the surfaces on the greens were saturated to the point that any more rain just brought the water straight back to the top of the surface.
“We were clearing the greens, but the water was coming back 10-15 minutes later, so we had a green that was perfectly playable, and within minutes they were completely covered in water again.
“We then attempted to cover the greens with towels. We had up to 50 towels on five or six of the 12 greens which were causing us problems, but on six of them the players would have been able to claim relief under the rules of golf.
“The third, ninth, 11th and 17th greens all needed towels but, having removed them after half an hour, 15 minutes later the water re-appeared on the greens.”
Extending the event by a day wasn’t an option. For starters, 11 players still in the field, including Walker and Wakefield, are in action today in various Open Championship qualifiers, while the next event on the Challenge Tour circuit – in Italy – starts on Wednesday, a day earlier than usual.
By the time the decision was made, overhead conditions had improved, but the damage had been done underfoot. “Even if we’d been able to get the field teed-off at 2.30pm, the last tee-time would have been at 4pm, leading to a finish at 9pm,” added Feeney.
“We might have also had a play-off but, if we had had one more shower, and that was forecast, we would have been unable to play at all.”
Walker, who had led by four shots at the halfway stage before being caught by Wakefield after his 66 on Saturday, squandered a great chance to win the play-off at the first time of asking, missing from six feet, but he made no mistake from slightly further away third time around.
“It’s great to win again in Scotland,” he said after collecting a cheque for £28,400 to catapult himself from 134th to sixth on the money list. “In fact, bring on the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles [in August]. I hope I can get in with my category but it’s the last tournament before the Ryder Cup, so it’s going to be hard.
“I lost a play-off to Colin Montgomerie in the Open Championship qualifying at Sunningdale [in 2004] but I’ve never been beaten in one in tournament golf, having also won three when I was an amateur.”
For the second year running, Greenock’s Chris Doak finished as the leading Scot, sharing fourth spot to earn a cheque for just under £8,000. Just two behind the leaders, he’d fancied his chances of landing a third home win in the event in four years but admitted the right decision had been made.
“I’d have loved a crack at it today, but the tournament officials know what they are doing so it was the correct call,” said Doak.
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Monday 20 May 2013
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