SOUTH AFRICAN Tim Clark stood in the middle of the 18th green at Royal Sydney yesterday, scratching his head. He was dumbfounded but he was also the 2008 Australian Open champion.
Firstly, New Zealander David Smail handed Clark and Tasmanian Mathew Goggin a reprieve. They were in the clubhouse at nine under the card for the week, ruing missed chances they thought had cost them the tournament, but suddenly, dramatically, Smail imploded.
Clark was eating a pie and chips in the clubhouse when he saw Goggin on the practice putting green. He thought he’d better join him. Shortly after, they were both on the practice range. Smail, who seemingly had an unassailable lead of four shots through nine holes, had doubled-bogey both the 15th and 16th holes – and he was one shot behind them.
Smail needed to birdie one of his final two holes to join them in a sudden-death play-off, but it wasn’t to be. He was gutted, almost breaking down, as he left the scorer’s hut. He plus Robert Allenby and West Australian Stephen Dartnall were tied for third – with Goggin and Clark left to battle it out.
On the first hole, Clark made a quite superb up and down from a greenside trap, holing the par putt from three metres. Then, the massive crowd around the 18th gasped. Goggin had a par putt from less than a metre but it lipped out. Stuart Appleby spoke of John Daly being a train wreck. We witnessed one yesterday.
"It was obviously a bonus to get in the play-off but I just feel bad for David for the way he finished," Clark said. "You never want to see that. Then in the play-off it was a shock to win it like that, too. It’s a tough way to win like that but I guess at the end of the day I am the winner.
"It will improve my world ranking [with double points loaded because it is a national open] so it’s a very important win for me with The Presidents Cup this year.
After Clark had finished with a final-round five-under 67 with a double bogey and a bogey on the back nine, "I spoke to my wife and said, ‘I think I’ve thrown away another tournament.’ I thought that was that. It is just a big shock to be here.
"I’ve seen a fellow competitor struggle coming in – and then for Mat to finish like that, I feel bad for that, too. It was certainly out of left field. Maybe later on or tomorrow I’ll celebrate but right now I’m still in a bit of shock. Obviously, I’m very happy but it’s tough to show any happiness because of what the two guys did."
Goggin had given away his golf balls and his gloves, confident that he’d finished second for a second week in a row. His coach Dale Lynch had to go to the locker room to rustle up balls and a glove for the play-off. At Coolum, he was devastated with the loss to Geoff Ogilvy but yesterday was far more philosophical.
"I feel for David really. He had a good tournament, he was playing well and to have such a horror finish is brutal for him. Obviously, my finish in the play-off … well, to get in the play-off was a bonus but to miss a short putt and not keep it going twists the knife a little bit. But, that’s part of it," Goggin said. "Tim and I didn’t deserve to be in a play-off at all. It wasn’t even in our heads. I don’t know how many times I’ve finished second now, but hopefully it is more in the mould of David Duval where you finish second a lot and then you win a bunch."
So sure was Clark that he would not win that he came in for a media interview before packing up his locker. Then, he said, "I am disappointed in the way I finished. The double bogey on the par three [14th] killed the momentum."
Clark, who has played the past three weeks in Australia, heads home for the South African Open this week. It will be interesting to see how he is received.
Before his surprise win, he’d said: "In all honesty, I feel more welcome here than I do at home. I don’t want it to sound like a knock on the South African tour, but I really have been made to feel very welcome here. I don’t feel that at home."
Clark will be back next year – as defending champion of the Open. His rounds these past four days were 70-73-69-67 for that nine-under total, one better than John Senden’s winning tally at Royal Sydney two years ago.
For Ogilvy, it was, in his own assessment, a horrible week in comparison with his deeds at Coolum.
"It could have been really special," he said of yesterday’s four-under 68. Putts shaved the hole, and he was dealt a couple of rough breaks by the bounce of the ball. It wasn’t easy in the wind gusting to 60kmh, just guesswork as to which way it would gust next. TOP FINISHERS Australian Open 279 – Tim Clark (RSA) 70 73 69 67 won on first play- off hole, Mathew Goggin (Aus) 65 70 75 69. 280 – Robert Allenby (Aus) 71 67 71 71, David Smail (NZ) 67 68 70 75, Stephen Dartnall (Aus) 65 68 75 72.