The Gazette Matchplay Golf Finals 2017 - full report from Portugal

Champion Elliot Lavin with sponsors Phil Barker (MD of the The Airport Transfer Group, left) and Ian Wharmby (MD of Blacktax, right)
Champion Elliot Lavin with sponsors Phil Barker (MD of the The Airport Transfer Group, left) and Ian Wharmby (MD of Blacktax, right)

Cheeky chappy Elliot Lavin smiled his way to glory in the Gazette Matchplay Championship in Portugal.

Cheeky chappy Elliot Lavin smiled his way to glory in the Gazette Matchplay Championship in Portugal.

The 28-year-old Lytham Green Drive member was rarely spotted without his pearly whites on show as he plotted his way to victory around the picturesque Oceanico Old Course, in Vilamoura, during Saturday’s final.

Having qualified for the final four of the prestigious competition for the very first time and an all-expenses-paid trip to the Algarve – generously funded by sponsors Blacktax taxis and The Airport Transfer Group – Lavin’s laid-back approach certainly paid dividends as he withstood a fast start from two-time former winner Chris Boyes, of Fleetwood GC, in the grand final.

The champion of 2010 and 2012 won four of the opening five holes and led by three heading into the eighth.

However, 15-handicapper Lavin remained cool, calm and collected as he began to turn the screw heading into the back nine.

He won the next four holes, including a superb 15ft putt at the ninth for birdie, to go one shot in front with seven to play.

Although Boyes, who has a handicap of six, showed skill and fight to pull the scores level at the 13th, he was battling against the tide and an inspired opponent.

After sinking putts to halve both the 14th and 15th, Lavin moved ahead again at the 16th as Boyes’ putter let him down.

Victory came at the 17th hole as Lavin produced a superlative downhill chip from the edge of the green to within three or four feet of the pin.

It was the cue for Boyes to offer his hand of congratulations to the new champion.

After being handed the coveted trophy by Blacktax managing director Ian Wharmby and the Airport Transfer Group’s Phil Barker, Lavin revealed he felt confident of victory despite the scores being close.

“I just had a good feeling, especially when I got the scores back level,” said Lavin, who hails from Lytham.

“I just kind of knew I was going to win. Chris played great in the early part of the final and I thought it was going to be an early finish.

“He won five of the first seven holes but I managed to start playing some really good golf to turn it around.

“I think the fact we had the sponsors Ian Wharmby and (Blacktax colleague) Ian Hodgin following us over the back nine really helped me.

“It made it more nerve-racking but that kind of inspired me.

“It was nice to win it with a chip to within two feet of the pin on the 17th. I like those little chips.”

Lavin admitted winning the tournament was the highlight of his golfing career so far but he is hoping there are many more.

“It’s unbelievable, ”he said. “It feels amazing to win the whole tournament.

“To win it at what is an unbelievable setting in Portugal makes it even more special – it’s the setting of a lifetime.

“I’ll be looking to get back here and defend my title next year.” A day earlier, Lavin survived a few nervy moments towards the end of his victory over Anthony Berry in the semi-finals on Vilamoura’s Laguna course.

After building a commanding lead, which saw the eventual champion move five shots ahead with just five to play, Lavin entered into meltdown territory, especially after he spurned a putt from just three feet which would have ended the match early at the 13th.

Thirty-three-year-old Berry, who is a member of Heron’s Reach in Blackpool and also plays off 15, made the most of the late reprieve.

He reduced the deficit to three down as Lavin found the water on four occasions over the next two holes.

Lavin eventually got it together on the big par five 16th, earning a halve to seal his place in the final 3&2.

Finals weekend proved to be a case of what might have been for former winner Boyes.

He was favoured to make it a hat-trick of titles and served notice of his quality when he scorched around the Old Course on the Thursday practice day in a one-over-par 74.

He then earned a comprehensive win over North Shore’s Glen Elvidge by 7&5 in the semi-finals at Laguna.

Boyes got off to a great start as he won the opening five holes and then contained five-handicapper Elvidge (45), who was only able to win one hole, the par five eighth.

History looked set to repeat itself in the final against Lavin as Boyes moved one-up immediately after producing a brilliant chip out of the bunker within three feet of the pin on the first.

Bogeys on the second and the seventh and pars on the fourth and fifth were good enough to give the Fleetwood player a three-hole lead, but that was as good as it got as Lavin came roaring back.

“It started well for me,” said Boyes. “But then I had a couple of bad holes. I let Elliot back in really, with a couple bad shots that I should have put away.

“His shots started to come off and he started to turn the tie.

“I think his confidence started to rise after the birdie putt on the ninth.

“So, yes, I feel disappointed. I feel I should have put him away earlier.”

Although Boyes was giving seven strokes away over the course of the 18 holes, they did not actually matter too much in the grand scheme of things.

Lavin was able to win holes outright, while Boyes won the seventh when he was giving a shot away.

However, the Fleetwood man admitted it was tough playing against a higher-handicap opponent who was playing inspired golf at times.

“He was hitting it down the middle more or less every time and chipping it to four or five feet of the hole,” he said. “But all credit to Elliot – he played really well and deserved to win.”

Berry and Elvidge were naturally disappointed to lose at the last four stage but still took great pride from reaching finals weekend in Portugal.

Competitors pay just £10 to enter the event but more than recoup that in taxi and airport transfer vouchers.

“It’s the best £10 I have ever spent in my life,” said Elvidge. “To get to come to Portugal on an all-expenses-paid trip and play golf on some great courses is just fantastic.

“I was disappointed to lose my semi-final but in golf you have days when it doesn’t happen for you.”

Berry added: “I was a little bit too inconsistent on the day. I was hoping to force it to a play-off when Elliot had that little wobble but it wasn’t to be. But I’ve had a great time and it was great to meet the rest of the lads.”

Ian Wharmby of Blacktax was mightily impressed with some of the golf on show in Portugal, especially from the winner.

“Some of Elliot’s chips were outstanding. The one he produced on the 17th to win the match was fantastic – I wish I could chip like that.

“He thoroughly deserved to win, especially against a very good opponent in Chris Boyes in the final. He kept it together after losing four of the first five holes, so well done to him.

“I think all four of the semi-finalists have enjoyed coming to Portugal and hopefully they will try to come back next year.”

More than 200 golfers entered the competition and Wharmby is encouraging more players from Fylde coast clubs to enter next year.

The competition consists of five separate rounds on local courses. The quarter-finals take place at a prestigious neutral golf club, with the last four contesting the semi-finals and final in Portugal and staying free of charge at a five-star hotel.

“It’s £10 to enter and you get that back with a £10 taxi voucher,” Wharmby said.