Matt Tautari, of Invercargill, gets ready to line up his putt on the 18th green on Sunday afternoon on his way to winning the Taieri Class
A stunning eagle on the homeward nine helped Southland representative Matt Tautari (Invercargill) distance himself from the pack during the closing stages of the 36-hole Taieri Classic yesterday at Taieri Lakes.
The victory also clinched the sole spot available for the final NZ Open qualifying stage, to be held on Tautari’s old stomping ground at Cromwell Golf Club.
A mild Mosgiel morning combined with a parched golf course meant conditions were conducive to low scoring around the North Taieri course, with 11 players shooting par or better prior to lunch. However, as the breeze picked up in the afternoon that number was reduced to four.
Otago representative Jonny Mackay (Cromwell) continued where he left off, after performing well at the Toro Inter-provincial in December, to lead at lunch after firing a five under par 67. He was three shots clear of Tautari on a two-under par 70, while Canadian Kaelenn Briggs (Millbrook), Canterbury representative Matt McLean (Harewood) and Hayden Robertson (Taieri Lakes) were tied for third a shot further back.
Despite three birdies on the front nine in the afternoon, a double and a triple bogey brought Mackay back to the pack, while Tautari, who was struggling on the greens, sneaked past Mackay with a steady two birdies and seven pars for the opening nine to hold a one-shot lead at three under par from McLean and Mackay.
Up ahead, local stalwart Mark Andrews (Taieri Lakes) had joined the two-under chasing pack after a steady even par 72 in the morning and was looking like a threat to Tautari’s title chances after making a birdie on the 13th hole.
Despite Tautari’s bogey at the 11th, momentum swung dramatically in his favour on the 14th, when he holed out for an eagle two, catapulting him three shots clear and ultimately proving the difference. Mackay and McLean were unable to make inroads despite both playing steady golf on the run home.
Instead, Andrews bridged the gap when making birdie on the 16th to get within two shots of Tautari, only to miss a 4m birdie putt on the 17th, then find the hazard on the 18th to finish in outright second on two under par for the day.
Tautari brought up 100 Toro interprovincial games at the age of 33 in December and is often referred to the ‘‘Rock at the top’’ for his steady play.
He was just that heading towards the 18th. Despite struggling to make putts he never looked like making a mistake, carding four straight pars to finish at five under par.
Luke Worthington (St Clair) won the division 2 section on 151, one shot ahead of Matt Mercer (Taieri Lakes).
Jack Turner continued an outstanding run of holes in one, holing out on the 17th in the morning for his third ace in six months.
– Michael Minty