CAPE TOWN, South Africa (March 1, 2012) -- South Africa’s leading amateur Brandon Stone is just one match away from realising a lifelong ambition of winning the Sanlam South African Amateur Championship.
But his 36-hole final round against Brian Soutar from Scotland is guaranteed to be his most taxing confrontation yet.
“I played against Brian in the United Kingdom last year and he is a tenacious and determined player,” said Stone.
“If he is in the final, it means he is running a hot streak. I’m in good form, too, so it’s guaranteed to be a gripping final. It’s a good thing I had all those extra holes this week to warm me up.”
On his way to the final, Stone suffered through an extended journey to the 21st hole beat a relentless Pedrie Oosthuizen in the second round and needed an extra hole to dispatch Western Province number one Michael Loppnow in the quarterfinals.
And yet another trip to the 19th to force a positive result with a six-foot birdie in his semi-final match against England’s Jamie Clare.
But Soutar needed two extra holes to dispatch Louis Taylor of Harrismith in the quarters and took another stroll down the 19th to eliminate Southern Cape amateur Shaun Smith in the semis.
“And then we get to do it all over again on Friday,” said Stone. “Twice.”
“You always strive to wrap your match up as early as possible, but playing all those extra holes has given me some confidence. To come through 18 holes in three tightly contested matches and to win them all in extra holes is never an easy task and I’ve done it three times. It has really fired me up.”
Stone and Clare traded blows through the first three holes, with the South African winning the first, Clare the second and Stone the third.
The pair halved four and five, Clare squared the match at six and the stalemate held for the next three holes. After the turn, the English Boy Squad player won 10, Stone claimed 14 and 15 to edge ahead again, but three-putt at the 16th opened the door for Clare.
Although the lead changed seven times, Stone’s putter let him down over the closing holes. A short putt at 17 lipped out and his longer putt at the 18th shaved the hole.
But the golfing gods finally smiled on the 18-year-old’s short stick in extra time.
“Jamie hit a great tee shot down the middle of the fairway and I hit a four-iron that somehow flew 240-yards,” he explained. “I landed on a little down-slope on the right of the fairway, but the lie was okay.”
Clare came over the top of his pitch and hit his approach to about 20 foot, but Stone’s pitch landed six feet from the pin.
“He left his putt just short of the hole, but I knocked mine in the back of the cup. That was the second time I birdies the 19th to win and I was just so relieved that the marathon was finally over.”
Meanwhile Soutar and Smith were also embroiled in a roller-coaster round.
George-based Smith had the upper hand with a 2-up lead after three holes, but Soutar cut his advantage to one at the sixth. The Southern Cape golfer took the 10th to edge ahead again and looked to have the match well in hand with halves over the next three holes.
But the gritty Scott hit back, this time to win 14 and 15 to square the match.
“I got the lead back at the 16th and just missed a birdie putt at the 17th to win the match,” said Smith. “I had two putts for par at the 18th but he holed an unbelievable putt from 25 foot to square the match. I got a little unlucky at the first play-off hole because I was plugged in the bunker. He had two putts for par and won the match.”
Although he was obviously disappointed, the Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation graduate preferred to focus on the positives from his first experience at the country’s most prestigious amateur tournament.
“If someone told me at the start of the week that I would make it to the semi-final, I would have taken it,” he said. “I learned a lot of golf course management and patience this week and I’m proud that I could stay the course until the semi-finals. There are still a lot of tournaments to play this year and it’s a great feeling to play this well so early in the season.”