NEWLY crowned Gazette/Blacktax matchplay champion Chris Boyes has packed a lot of golf into his 24 years – and reckons he has played more than 500 courses ... and that’s only in the UK.
One of the many on his lengthy been-there-done-it list is the majestic Old Course at Vilamoura, having won our tournament there two years ago, and Knott End player Chris believes that experience stood him in good stead for his repeat win last weekend on the Portuguese Algarve.
But he found the competition far tougher this time, defeating Fleetwood player Brian Laverty one-up on the final hole.
But Brian had a hunch he would finish runner-up. His wife Victoria Brown is a psychotherapist with a gift for predicting the future and she had assured Brian he would reach the final. However, her refusal to foretell the result of the final made Brian suspect she was sparing him the bad news.
It did not need someone of Victoria’s talents to predict that the final four in the tournament would spend four delightful and unforgettable days in this golfing paradise, their flights and luxury accommodation at the beach-side Vila Gale Ampalius hotel, fully funded by tournament sponsors Blacktax.
Equally predictable was the glorious sunshine which made relaxation time between matches at the glorious marina resort all the more enjoyable for Chris, Brian and fellow qualifiers Glenn Riches and Brad Sarjantson, as well as perfect host/match referee Ian Wharmby of Blacktax.
This year the semi-finals and final were played at different venues, enabling our final four to experience two of Vilamoura’s eight magnificent courses, including the history-steeped Old Course, after winning through the previous six rounds.
Our first destination was the Millennium Course for the semi-finals, both of which were close-fought and both ended when a halved 17th sealed 2&1 success for the the lower handicap player.
Glenn took enormous credit for running Chris so close, despite being consistently outdriven by an opponent 33 years his junior.
The straightest driver of the four, Glenn fought back from two holes down on three occasions, but he couldn’t do it a fourth time, despite showing great willpower not to overwhelmed by an opponent who hit three birdies, including two in successive holes.
Glenn led for the only time after the first, when Chris lipped his par putt only to hit back with three holes in a row. Unruffled, Glenn responded by making it all square after six.
Glenn’s higher handicap granted him an extra shot at the fifth, the hardest hole, but he didn’t need it as Chris followed a wayward drive by clattering into bushes on the right.
And after Glenn took the next with a solid par three, it meant the first halved hole didn’t arrive until the seventh.
Both players missed birdie chances on 12, but the drive of the day on the short 13th left Chris just 18 inches away, and sure of a third birdie.
Again Glenn moved back within one hole when Chris found two bunkers up 14, but after both parred the final short hole, Chris decisively won the 16th, despite a bunkered second and a bogey five.
The other semi-final always looked too close to call, with 11 of the 17 holes halved. Although neither player sank a putt of any length and Brian registered the only birdie of the match, Brad did lead for four holes on the front nine, and was left to regret three good hole-winning chances which went begging.
Brian seized on Brad’s poor second to win the opener with a solid par, but Brad cancelled that out on the fourth, after Brian hit a tree. And like Glenn, Brad made the most of his extra shot at the fifth after both holed in five.
Brian started to make his decisive move on 13, chipping to 18 inches to save par after Brad missed his par putt from inside two feet.
Then after both parred 14 following excellent third shots from just off the green, that birdie at the short 15th after a drive to four feet gave Brian his two-hole cushion.
Brad recovered well to stay in the contest at 16, matching Brian’s solid four despite despite firing his second through the green. But with Brian dormie two, Brad went to unleash his biggest drive at 17 and sliced into water.
Despite the penalty shot, Brad had another chance to stay alive with a six-foot bogey putt after Brian’s tentative approach play, but when that stayed out it really was all over.
The question the following day was whether Brian could plot a route around the world-renowned Old Course to overcome Chris’ bigger hitting.
He gave himself every chance, rising early to walk the course with the losing semi-finalists as they played their consolation round.
And the planning looked like paying off as Brian made a storming start, winning the first four holes.
The fightback began at the long fifth, when Chris made his extra length off the tee count for the first time. Comfortably on the par five green in two, he made a birdie look effortless, while Brian’s more conservative approach play yielded his first bogey.
But he immediately had a chance to restore his four-hole advantage at the short sixth but three-putted for bogey, enabling Chris to escape with a half after driving into a bunker.
And how Chris made Brian pay, winning the next two holes to cut the deficit to just one. He took the seventh with the putt of the weekend, a 20-footer to save par after driving into trees.
Chris scored a nett birdie on eight, on which he received a shot, but would have won it without the handicap advantage after reaching the trickiest green on the course in two and leaving a long putt inches short.
Brian had to dig deep to reverse the momentum and did so by halving the next four holes, first saving par with an excellent eight-foot putt on the ninth and pressurising Chris into missing a six-footer for birdie.
Both saved some of their best golf for the long, dogleg 12th. Chris hit a splendid drive over trees on his way to a solid par, only for Brian’s powers of recovery to come into play with a chip to two and a half feet from a greenside bunker after a sliced third.
Brian almost pulled off a miracle recovery at 13, where his ball struck a tree on the left and fell into a ditch, nestling behind a rock. His second only advanced the ball inches, but still an excellent chipped fourth left him a two-footer to halve the hole with bogey after Chris had overshot the green.
Brian missed and the turning point had arrived. Chris was finally back on level terms, and would win two of the next three to take a grip on the final.
Brian pulled off an awkward bunker shot at 14, but had to answer to Chris’ power as two shots took him within seven feet of the pin on the par five. He was narrowly denied the first eagle of the finals, but took the lead with a first-class four.
Chris had more trees for company at the long 16th but rescued his hole with a sensational third to 12 feet from 180 yards. The birdie putt just stayed out but was good enough to put leave Chris domie two, Brian having needed four shots to reach the front edge.
It looked all over when Brian drove into a bunker at 17 and could do no more than chip out. But he drilled his third to eight feet and holed the par putt to heap the pressure back on Chris, who missed a four-footer for a half and the match after a good chip of his own.
And so, after months of toil around Fylde coast courses it all came down to one hole in the late afternoon on the Algarve.
After both drove left, Chris found the front edge with his second and left a 40-foot putt just two feet short. Chipping in to bring extra holes into play was a tall order for Brian, but he did superbly to leave his ball just three feet away and force Chris to win the title with the final putt.
Sponsor and perfect host Ian Wharmby of Blacktax said: “Well done to the champion. The final was quite rightly the best match of the tournament and was with the final putt.”