Cort takes a shine to sun-drenched Saunton

COMPETITORS in the English PGA Championship at Saunton were fulsome in their praise for the course, the club’s hospitality and tireless efforts of the volunteers who were essential in ensuring the tournament ran smoothly, but Matt Cort has more reason than any of them to want to take this glorious portion of Devon home with him.

Having won the PGA Play-Offs on the club’s East course two years ago, the pro from Beedles Lake Golf Club, Leicestershire, followed up with victory on its younger sibling, the West, to claim the £5,000 first prize.

There the similarities end, however. Whereas Cort prevailed in a play-off in October 2016, he led the revived English PGA Championship from start to finish to be 14-under-par at the end of 54-holes and three shots clear of second-placed James Freeman.

Even more contrasting was the hue and constitution of the courses. Days of unrelenting sunshine had turned the lush and forgiving fairways of the autumn into parched rock-hard strips of terrain that, pock-marked with 18 outcrops of green grass, resembled golf courses found in the desert.

All of which called for Cort to show his skills as a golfer by adapting to alien conditions.

“It was a bit more fiery this time,” said the winner with considerable understatement. “This was a different beast to the grassy and softer conditions we experienced two years ago. It’s something we don’t usually come across and I had to change my game.

“I usually hit a lot of drivers off the tee – that’s one of my strengths as I’m pretty accurate. But there was no need for it here – the ball runs so far and you’ve really got to plot your way round.”

A six-under-par opening round of 65 followed by two of four-under were proof positive of a game plan he refused to change, even when Paul Nessling, his closest pursuer at the beginning of the final round, produced a high-octane start.

An opening salvo of three birdies on the bounce erased Cort’s two-shot advantage and pole position changed hands. But not for long. Nessling followed up with bogey, double bogey, bogey, and thereafter it became something of a stroll for Cort.

Freeman, who represents Retford Golf Club, kept in touch to ensure an East Midlands one-two at the top of the leaderboard. And Andy Raitt weighed in with a hole-in-one at the par-three 16th en route to finishing third on 10-under.

As a result, Cort was able to adopt a safety first route in negotiating the final two holes although he did flirt with bunkers at both.

He admitted he was fortunate to avoid trouble on both occasions and added: “Good things happen when you win I suppose and I’m delighted to win this tournament.

“It’s a prestigious one and to have it back on the schedule after an eight year gap is great for us pros.”

Leading scores: Matthew Cort (Beedles Lake) -14; James Freeman (Retford Golf Club) – 11; Andy Raitt (St George’s Hill) -10; Greig Hutcheon (Paul Lawrie Golf Centre), Paul Nessling (Cooden Beach Golf Club) -6; Phillip Archer (Poulton Park Golf Club), Andrew Willey (Oakmere Park Golf Club), Ross Langdon (Brickhampton Court Golf Complex) -3.

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