Game, set and match

Dean Bailey relives the 2017 Northern Golfer Match Play Pairs final with winners Matt Sibley and Dave Wainman

After a nail-biting final, Eaglescliffe Golf Club’s Matt Sibley and Dave Wainman were crowned 2017 Northern Golfer Match Play Pairs champions at Middlesbrough Golf Club.

Having progressed through seven months of matches, including playing three of their four matches before the semi-finals away from home, 19-handicapper Matt and 10-handicapper Dave overcame Selby Golf Club’s Luke Eustace and Mark Kelly 2up in a close and nervy final at Brass Castle.

“The event’s been a great experience all the way through,” said Matt following the final.

“The final was competitive throughout with some great golf to start with and some nervy stuff towards the end,” added Dave. “We managed to have two balls in play most of the back nine and that proved really important. We holed some clutch putts – including two huge ones at six and seven to stay 2dn when we could have given ourselves too much to do before the turn.”

Matt added: “The semi-final and final were quality experiences on a great course and although there were some nerves we managed to scrape through against two great lads and we’re over the moon to be champions.”

With the win Matt and Dave secured a place in the North East & North West PGA Portugal Pro Am in November, which we’ll have a full report on in December, as well as their place as the 15th winners of the event which began in 2002.

Having won the first with a long birdie putt from Dave, the Eaglescliffe pair were quickly down in the match as a combination of long driving and excellent recovery from Luke and Mark – including a chip-in par from the back of the green from Luke to win the second, a two-putt par from Mark to win the third and a birdie three from long range from Mark to win the fifth – saw the Selby pair 2up through five holes.

A run of solid pars followed – Matt and Luke halving the tough dog-leg sixth with nett birdies and sharing the seventh with excellent two-putt pars before Dave and Luke made another pair of nett birdies to half the short par four eighth.

At the ninth, needing to regain momentum heading for the turn, Dave produced one of the best single holes of the match as he split the fairway with his drive before playing up to 6ft and holing out for birdie to get back to 1dn through nine.

The easiest hole on the course, the driveable par four 10th, saw Matt and Mark make good pars from tricky positions around the green before Matt and Dave got back to all square for the first time since the second hole with Dave’s solid par at the par five 11th.

The Eaglescliffe pair then took the lead back at the 12th as Dave produced another top quality iron shot followed by a solid putt for birdie to take a 1up lead with six holes to play.

Nerves began to show as the match reached its final stages with all four players missing the green at the par three 13th and failing to get up and down – Mark’s scrappy bogey good enough to return the match to all square.

With pressure mounting, solid golf became key to both teams. Holes 14, 15 and 16th were all halved – Dave and Luke making par at the 14th before another scrap around the green at 15 saw Mark’s bogey five just good enough to make the half as neither Matt or Dave could hole out for a nett par on the toughest hole on the course. At the short 16th, playing just 120 yards, all four players again failed to capitalise from the tee however all four produced superb shots from around the green as the hole was halved in unlikely pars – Dave’s bunker shot and Luke’s pitch from the back right the pick of the up and downs.

With the sun dropping below the trees Matt and Dave delivered the deciding blow on the 17th. As Mark drove into a tree to the left of the fairway and found an unplayable lie his partner Luke could only manage a bogey five having found trees from the tee. Matt meanwhile produced one of the recoveries of the match having driven his ball left over an adjacent fairway before making a superb up and down from short of the green for par as Dave made another solid two-putt par to take a 1up lead down the final hole.

With the trophy, and the trip to Portugal, still in the balance both Mark and Luke hit stellar drives down the last before neither could find the green from short range. Dave’s shot from the greenside bunker to within 5ft of the hole proved good enough to seal the 2up win and the title.

“It was a great final,” said Luke. “I thought we’d done enough early on getting to 2up and putting together a string of good pars but they clawed us back around the turn with some good putts.”

“When we’re losing holes to birdies it’s always going to be tough,” added Mark. “The standard was high and the boys were great company and they deserved to win with the better golf late in the day. Hopefully we can go one better next year!”

“I’d recommend every club golfer who can to enter next year,” added Matt. “We’ve had six great matches at some top clubs with some top-class pairs and will definitely be back next year,” added Matt.

Northern Golfer editor Paul Robertson added: “The Match Play Pairs is our oldest event and one which produces excellent golf each season.

“Congratulations to Matt and Dave, I am sure they will enjoy the prize provided by Kevin Batty from A huge thank you to Kevin and the PGA; and to Gordon Cattrell, Bryan Sloper and the team at Middlesbrough Golf Club for hosting this year’s semi-finals and final with the course in excellent condition.

“We look forward to welcoming more pairs to compete in next year’s event and add to a long list of deserving champions.”

In this year’s semi-finals, also staged at Middlesbrough Golf Club, Matt and Dave overcame defending champions John Potts and Graeme Robson 2&1 as Luke and Mark beat 2006 champion Steve Slater and his partner Andy O’Neil from City of Newcastle 4&3.

Entries for the 2018 Match Play Pairs event will open next month with full details in the December/January edition of Northern Golfer.