There is something truly special about watching a quality field of professional golfers taking on a world class golf course.
The ebb and flow of tournament play is always fascinating, especially when it comes down to a last green finish, as was the case at the Fiji International that concluded last Sunday at the sumptuous Natadola Bay Championship Golf Course.
The scenery is so good alongside the glorious Coral Coast that even four-time Major winner Ernie Els was quoted as saying it took his breath away at times.
Sure took mine away during the four days I spent watching the tournament, and one extra day when I had the pleasure to play the course after the pros had finished.
Els and three-time Major winner Vijay Singh were the headline acts and the ‘Big Easy’ Els came so close to following in the esteemed divot marks of previous winners Matt Kuchar and Brandt Snedeker.
In the end he had to settle for third equal with talented Kiwi Ben Campbell, with young Aussie star Anthony Quayle finishing second behind the aptly named Gaganjeet Bhullar from India (’Gaganjeet’ means ‘Victor of the Sky’), despite shooting a final round course record of nine-under 63.
Campbell was one of 13 New Zealanders in the field, including Mark Brown, Josh Geary, and Kieran Muir, who all call Tauranga home.
It was a mixed golf bag of success for the trio, with Brown finishing a solid week’s golf in 18th equal place, Muir fading in his last round to drop down to 58th, and Geary missing the cut to play in the weekend.
Brown, 43, has been a top class tournament pro for 24 years, and in 2008 was the highest ranked New Zealand golfer, after he won two prestigious tournaments in India.
He has been in top form on the Asia Tour in July, and showed in Fiji he can match it with the top ranked players. He enjoyed a round with Els and matched him hole for hole.
Brown grew up in Wellington and is renowned as a fine exponent of playing golf in windy conditions.
“I like the course and I like the wind, but despite finishing 11th last year I have not played that well around. I struggle a little bit reading the greens around here.
“The course is now a lot better designed. There are a lot more options around the greens with pin placements. The changes are really good and have made a good course even better.”
Muir, who had Tauranga Golf Club senior pennant player Josh Presley on his bag, was disappointed to shoot a six-over 78 in his final round after showing glimpses of his talent in the blustery sea breezes at Natadola Bay.
But this is one tournament he will not forget after he holed his eight iron at the par-three second hole in his third round.
Muir’s perfectly struck shot flew straight into the cup to give the spectators behind the green a thrill.
“It was a slam dunk, which is great,” Muir said.
Unfortunately for Geary, who has enjoyed some reasonable success at the Fiji International, it was a case of two bad holes wiping out his tournament.
Taken in isolation, the triple and quadruple bogies in his opening round 81 ruined a reasonable round. His second round was under par, but he missed the cut.
Geary, who learnt to play at the Otumoetai Golf Club, has two months of intense tournament play coming up in Europe, where he will work harder than anyone to ensure he keeps his tour card.
It was such a battle to finally get on the European Tour for him. No one deserves success there more than he does.