Irish ace Higgins take route 66 to glory

IRELAND’S David Higgins withstood the charging Andy Raitt to run out a convincing winner of the Titleist & FootJoy PGA Professional Championship at The Oxfordshire.

The Waterville Links pro from Co. Kerry carded his second 66 of the week to post a 15 under par total of 273 and three stroke victory over Raitt who fired a 67.

Higgins admitted to a few nerves but any jitters were alleviated by a devastating burst of birdies around the turn with gains at 10, 12, 13 and 14 helping him to a six under par final round.

“I had a lovely chip in on 10, a good par save on 11, then holed a 25 footer on 12, a 20 footer on 13 and then a 15 footer on 14,” said Higgins.

“Those were the ones I wasn’t getting yesterday but today – bang – right in the middle.”

“You just keep pushing, you don’t get chances like this very often so I did great, I made a few birdies but said to myself don’t stop because there is going to be other guys doing it and I did that so I was very proud.”

Higgins, who pocketed a cheque for £10,000 cheque and the use of a Peugeot 308 GT for a year, rated his triumph as one of the best his career and he gave himself a pat on the back for the way he handled the pressure.

“I’m delighted because I was very nervous, it’s been a while since I’ve been in a tournament this big so to come out on the right end is great,” he added.

“It must have been 12 or 14 years or something since I won something like this so you have to enjoy these. They don’t come along very often and I will enjoy it.

“Everyone at Waterville will be delighted, there will be a few pints drunk tonight because this is a big event and to win it is great for all of Irish golf.”

An absorbing final round of the £78,000 event saw several players in contention at various stages but it was Raitt who was to emerge as Higgins’ most serious rival.

And the St George’s Hill pro must have fancied his chances after birdieing the 10th and eagling the 11th for the third time in the week.

However when he checked the leaderboard on 17, Raitt realised it was game over and he was left to rue a second round 77 which included a quadruple bogey on the ninth where he lost two balls off the tee.

“The back nine on Wednesday for the 77 felt like the hardest nine I played all week because of what had happened before at nine “But I played better today and David played great so fair dues,” reflected Raitt who has the consolation of qualifying for the end of season PGA Play-Offs at Saunton in October.

“I really love this golf course, I played the Benson and Hedges here a few years ago, then gave up golf for a couple of years when I came off tour.

“But I ended up coming back here to The Oxfordshire for the first time when they had a regional event and I played well and managed to win that and it got me back into golf so I owe a lot to this place. I really like it.”

Defending champion Paul Hendriksen (Ivybridge) shared third spot alongside Thorpe Wood’s Stuart Brown on eight under with Lee Clarke, Liam Bond, Guy Woodman, Andrew Willey, Ian Campbell and Graham Fox tied fifth at six under for the championship.

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