Hatcher wins 'Battle of Herons Reach' to take Gazette Matchplay crown in Portugal

Gazette Matchplay 2016 winner Justin Hatcher (centre) with sponsors Ian Wharmby (right, of Blacktax) and Phil Barker of the Airport Transfer Group
Gazette Matchplay 2016 winner Justin Hatcher (centre) with sponsors Ian Wharmby (right, of Blacktax) and Phil Barker of the Airport Transfer Group
Have your say

Justin Hatcher of Herons Reach Golf Club will never forget his first-ever trip to Portugal – he will be returning home on Sunday with The Gazette Matchplay Trophy.

Five-handicapper Justin won an epic final one up against his clubmate Brad Sarjantson at the spectacular Penina Golf Resort.

The close friends drove off all square on the final hole of the magnificent Henry Cotton Championship Course, a great test of nerve and of cool heads on another blazing hot Algarve day.

The odds may have favoured Brad, who had won through to Portugal as one of our four semi-finalists for the fourth time in five years and was bidding to join the exclusive group of double winners.

But 42-year-old Justin held his nerve superbly on the most dramatic of last holes, as both players hit perfect drives and then backed themselves to reach the green on the 418-year par five with their second shot.

Both had the distance but landed in sand either side of the green. Justin's polished chip to six feet put the pressure on his opponent, who needed two attempts to escape.

With two putts for the championship, Justin rolled his first close enough for the hole and the title to be conceded.

The finalists agreed that the most valuable prize was the three-night stay at Penina fully funded by our generous tournament sponsors Blacktax and the Airport Transfer Group and also enjoyed by our losing semi-finalists Simon Burnett of St Annes Old Links and Knott End's Steve Richardson.

Justin, who works in the family reupholstery business in Cleveleys, made the more composed start to the final, leading throughout the front nine. And when Brad got his nose in front for the only time at the 13th, Justin hit back with the best putt of the finals at the next.

Having looked in danger of going two down as he found a greenside bunker at 14, Justin chipped out and then calmly holed the 25-foot par putt.

Brad had played the taxing par four well but then missed a four-footer under pressure to halve.

The Staining-based 46-year-old later said that was the turning point, though this sensational final was full of them.

Justin won the first two holes, safely finding both par-four greens in two to capitalise on Brad's wayward drives.

It was a sign of the finalists' friendly rivalry, and of a few nerves, when they agreed a half on the third instead of taking on tricky par putts, and the fourth was shared too after both players were inches away with long putts.

Brad won his first hole at the long fifth, recovering with a fine second through the trees to be within 12 feet of the par-five hole in three.

But Justin immediately restored his two-hole advantage at the par-three sixth, where Brad missed a short par putt and his opponent chipped an excellent second shot inside two feet.

Both missed 15-foot par putts by inches on seven and the short eighth was halved too, though Justin had a five-footer to win it in three.

Brad's deficit was down to one hole at the turn as he cashed in on a rare poor chip by Justin and left an 18-foot birdie putt close enough to be given.

That started a winning run of four holes out of five for Brad which threatened to turn the contest around.

He squared the match at the par-five 10th, chipping to four feet and holing the par putt.

And although Justin went back in front with a birdie at 11, chipping to within a foot of the pin, six-handicapper Brad made the most of his one-shot advantage on 12 to win it with a nett par four after his 25-foot putt stopped just 18 inches short.

Brad kept the momentum going by chipping within a foot at the short 13th. Justin lost his drive in water at that hole but halted Brad's charge at the next with that magnificent monster putt.

Justin couldn't make a 12-foot birdie putt to win 15 but he was back in front with a solid par at the final short hole, where Brad missed from inside four feet.

Brad responded in the best possible style with a birdie four at 17, firing a 60-yard chip within two feet of the pin to level proceedings and set up that most dramatic of finales.

Winner Justin joked: “It was the battle of Heron's Reach and I couldn't have lived with Brad bragging for a whole year, but he gave me a great game.

“It's been a fantastic weekend. The sponsors have been great and it's run like clockwork.”

Ian Wharmby of Blacktax and Phil Barker of the Airport Transfer Group agreed the final had brought an excellent 2016 competition to a fitting and unforgettable end.