Herons Reach duo to contest Gazette Matchplay decider in Portugal

Gazette Matchplay semi-finalists at Penina (from left): Justin Hatcher, Brad Sarjantson, Steve Richardson and Simon Burnett
Gazette Matchplay semi-finalists at Penina (from left): Justin Hatcher, Brad Sarjantson, Steve Richardson and Simon Burnett

Saturday's final of The Gazette Matchplay golf tournament will be all-Herons Reach clash in Portugal between former winner Brad Sarjantson and first-time finalist Justin Hatcher.

Saturday's final of The Gazette Matchplay golf tournament will be all-Herons Reach clash in Portugal between former winner Brad Sarjantson and first-time finalist Justin Hatcher.

In Friday's semi-finals on the resplendent Penina resort on the Algarve, 2013 winner Sarjantson won a thrilling match against Steve Richardson of the Knott End club on the final hole, while the impressive Hatcher defeated Simon Burnett of St Annes Old Links six and four.

Our four qualifiers are all enjoying three nights' luxury accommodation at scorching-hot Penina courtesy of tournament sponsors Blacktax and the Airport Transfer Group.

Staining-based 46-year-old Sarjantson, who has reached the last four of our tournament four times in five years, was hoping to make his experience count against three opponents who had not played Penina's world-renowned Henry Cotton Championship course before.

But an even contest always looked on the cards against his fellow six-handicapper Richardson, 58, and Brad needed all his know-how to win a contest in which neither player ever led by more than one hole. Steve led three times before going up the fateful final hole all square.

The semi-finals started at the tenth, meaning two testing par fives to begin with.

Brad and Steve both parred their opener but Steve took the 11th despite his par-putt lipping out.

They were all square after the next, when Brad's short par putt was conceded, but Steve was back in front at the short 13th, Brad missing a bogey putt after driving into water.

Neither player sank his birdie putt at the halved 14th but Brad did get one at the next to level the match again. He went ahead for the first time at the short 16th with a solid par.

And Preesall-based Steve looked like going two down at 17 as he hit woodland trouble down the left but he saved par and the hole.

It was all square at the turn, as Steve's shot bounced back on to the fairway off a tree and he won the hole with a par five.

Steve was cursing his putter at the start of their second nine, missing a three-foot par putt to regain the lead, then halving again at the next hole after a long birdie putt lipped out.

Brad took the lead for the second time on the third. Despite a tree trunk blocking his route to the green for his second shot, he still won the hole after leaving an excellent par putt within a foot.

Steve was denied a birdie on four when his 10-footer lipped out but his par squared the match yet again, and he went ahead for the third time as Brad conceded the fifth after losing his drive down the right.

Brad did well to deny Steve a third successive hole at the short sixth, which his opponent played superbly. Brad missed the green but sank a vital three-foot par putt for half.

However, nervy approach play saw Steve concede the seventh, and for the sixth time in the match a lead was lost.

Both parred the short penultimate hole, Steve saved by an excellent bunker shot to two feet.

And both were understandably nervy down the last, though Steve suffered more as his drive bounced down from trees into a ditch.

A good third kept the pressure on, but after Steve missed a bogey putt from 10 feet, Brad rolled in his from four for the match.

Justin, our lowest-handicapped semi-finalist but only just on five, made light of the fact he had never visited Portugal before to close out his contest against Simon by winning five holes out of six around the turn.

The 42-year-old won the first two holes and was three up after four.

Simon, our youngest semi-finalist at 36, knew he needed to win their third hole, the 13th, which is the toughest on the course and the only one on which he received a shot. But he had to settle for a half after drilling his second into water, despite Justin scoring bogey.

And Justin stretched his lead at the short 13th, sinking his birdie foot after a drive to 10 feet.

Simon sliced his drive to 14 on to the next fairway but recovered superbly to halve with a par four.

Despite the final scoreline, Simon was the only one of our semi-finalists to manage two birdies.

He got these on 15 and 17 - the first after an excellent second shot the two feet, the other having almost reached the par five green in two - to cut Justin's lead to a single hole.

But then it all went awry for St Annes-based Burnett. Justin was back two up by the halfway stage as Simon conceded the 18th after taking two attempts to escape a bunker.

He had more trouble in sand on the first, which Justin won after leaving a 20-foot birdie putt stone dead.

The second was halved but from that point Justin never looked back, winning the third with bogey after both found sand.

Justin couldn't convert a birdie putt after an excellent approach to the fourth but stll won the hole to stand dormie five.

It was all over at fifth when Simon's second rebounded off a bridge into trees and he realised it wasn't his day.