Jake holds nerve to claim NZ Open

CHARLESTOWN teenager Jake Higginbottom was true to his word when he "manned up" with a thumping drive on the final hole en route to becoming the first amateur winner of the New Zealand Open in 56 years yesterday.

Holding a one-shot lead, the 19-year-old came to the last tee at Clearwater Golf Club in Christchurch with water down the left and bunkers on the right.

Two days earlier Higginbottom was leading when he found water on the hole.

"I was actually saying to the boys this morning, 'What would you do if you were going down the last with a one-shot lead,' and I just said, 'I think I've just got to man up and rip it,"' Higginbottom said after finding the fairway with a booming drive, hitting his approach shot to within six metres of the pin and two-putting for the win.

"I was most nervous when I had that short putt on the last, but it was nice to see that drop, and to win is really good."

The wonder boy showed he was now a man to be reckoned with.

The bold finish gave Higginbottom, the former top-ranked Australian junior, a five-under 67 final round and a seven-under total for the tournament.

He became the first amateur to claim the title since countryman Harry Berwick in 1956 and joined the likes of Australian legends Kel Nagle and Peter Thomson in holding aloft the Brodie Breeze Trophy.

"I feel great at the moment. I don't really think it's sunk in yet," he said.

"But it's great to have come over here, see some nice calm weather, and I was thankful I was on the right side of the draw."

Starting at two under, three shots behind Kiwi leader Mark Brown, Higginbottom began the day with a bogey then two birdies.

He birdied the eighth then gave the shot back on the 10th before birdies on 11, 13, 14 and 15.

He bogeyed the 16th before hitting the front with his eighth birdie of the day at the par-four 17th.

"There were a few slips, but I just tried to recover, stay calm, hold my nerve," he said.

"I hit a couple of birdies on the back nine to finish, which was pretty good.

"It was good to be a couple behind after the front nine because I knew that I had to make birdies.

"That is what I did, so it was good."

Higginbottom would have taken home $72,000 for his effort had he played as a professional.

He plans to make the step up from amateur status next year.

"It is a great feeling and it means a lot me," he said.

"It is good to come over here and play against the professionals and know that I am as good as them."

Victorians Jason Norris and Peter Wilson took home $56,400 each for finishing joint second on six under.

Brown carded a 73 to finish two shots further back in fourth.

Higginbottom thanked his parents after the win.

"Mum was crying and dad was just happy that I made a good speech," he said.




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