James, who won the event in 2020, came through a close final to beat Eaglescliffe’s Ryan Riley on the second extra hole of a sudden-death playoff. The frenetic final, which saw Ryan get to 2up twice on the back nine, left James wondering: “how the hell did I get out of that?”.
The title seemed to be heading Ryan’s way on the back nine after the Eaglescliffe player clawed his way back into it from 2dn after two. He was still 1dn at the turn, but then won 10 and 11 to be 1up. Ryan made it 2up at 13 before James birdied 14, only for Ryan’s lead to be restored following a birdie two at the short 15th. James conjured up a birdie at the par five 16th, and when Riley stumbled to a bogey five at 18, James’ par took a topsy-turvy final into a sudden-death playoff.
Both players parred the first extra hole. At the second, Ryan was unlucky to go through the green and when his 8ft putt for par lipped out, James was left with a tap in for the win and the prospect of repeating his double county title season of 2020.
“After six rounds of golf in three days, it took us both 10 holes to pull ourselves together in the final,” said James. “On the back nine it was a good match. However, it did seem to be a question of ‘who wants this?’ and Ryan got unlucky on the second extra hole, but that’s what happens in matchplay.”