Golf: Australia takes title yet again

Griffin kisses girlfriend Liz Johnston. Photos by www.photosport.nz
Griffin kisses girlfriend Liz Johnston. Photos by www.photosport.nz
The Australian winners of the ANZ Celebrity Challenge (from left) Ivan Cleary, Allan Border and...
The Australian winners of the ANZ Celebrity Challenge (from left) Ivan Cleary, Allan Border and Ricky Ponting.

Let's just rename it the Australian Open.

Victorian Matthew Griffin drained a clutch 1.2m birdie putt on the final hole to win the $1 million New Zealand Open at The Hills yesterday.

The 32-year-old is the fifth Australian in a row to win the tournament, and walks away with $180,000 for his one-shot win.

"Yeah, it was the most nervous I've been,'' Griffin said when asked about his tournament-winning putt.

"I did a lot of deep breathing on the green. It was a nice putt - just right edge. I got it to start off on a good line and it hung on that left edge.''

Griffin, who entered the day two shots behind overnight leader Hideto Tanihara, of Japan, went into the 18th hole a shot back.

But while he drilled his drive on the 433m par-4 hole down the middle, Tanihara's flayed right and into the rough.

Griffin set up his winning putt with a lovely 114m approach shot, while Tanihara could only find the bunker with his.

After clearing the bunker, the Japanese professional came agonisingly close to saving par and forcing a playoff with a tough 5m putt, but it stopped on the edge of the cup.

"The last putt I thought it was going to go and it just came up a bit too short, which was a shame,'' Tanihara said.

His miss allowed Griffin to step up and drain the winner, a moment the 489th-ranked player in the world will not easily forget.

"It's huge. I've cut some big events in South Korea, but this is by far and away the biggest event that I've won,'' he said.

"To win the New Zealand Open, it's got so many great names on the trophy. It's a real step forward for me.''

Griffin, who also pocketed a share of $8000 for finishing second in the pro-am component of the tournament with amateur Campbell Neal, plans to return to defend his title next year.

His 5-under-par 67 final round goes with his two rounds of 65 on Friday and Saturday, and his opening round of 70 on Thursday.

His 20-under-par 267 was a similar score to past winners, including last year's winner, Jordan Zunic, who fired a 21-under-par 266.

Trailing Tanihara by two shots to start the day, Griffin immediately knotted it up with a confidence-boosting eagle on the first hole.

He went on to take a one-shot lead through eight holes, before a bogey on the 13th allowed Tanihara to jump out to a two-shot lead courtesy of a birdie of his own.

But Tanihara's lead was immediately cut by one after he bogeyed the 14th, a lead he would hold until the final and unforgettable hole.

Tanihara pocketed $102,000 for his second-place finish.

New Zealand's tournament winning drought will continue into a 14th year, but Kiwi Michael Hendry fired a classy 7-under-par final round to shoot up the leaderboard and finish tied for third.

Hendry was tied for 10th heading into the day after a 6-under-par round on Saturday, but bagged eight birdies yesterday to finish 14-under the card (273).

However, he was left wondering what could have been, after two rounds of 71 on the opening couple of days left him too much work to do.

"There are a lot of mistakes that I'm lamenting from Thursday and Friday,'' he said.

"Thursday's round promised a lot early and was a little weak coming in, and the beginning of Friday's round was really poor too.

"Those 15 holes through the middle there cost me a real good chance for the tournament.''

Hendry, who still pocketed $58,000, said there was no doubt a New Zealander was good enough to win the tournament, but the increasingly good fields meant it would have to wait at least another year.

Fellow New Zealander Steven Alker finished outright sixth after shooting a 12-under-par 275, while pre-tournament favourite Ryan Fox, also of New Zealand, finished tied for 11th at 10-under-par.

Australian Deyen Lawson, who finished the Open tied for seventh, and amateur Anton Booy won the pro-am, giving them a share of $12,000.

● Australia won the inaugural celebrity challenge after beating New Zealand 20-12.

Prime Minister John Key substituted in for actor Shane Cortese yesterday, but could not beat Australian gun Ricky Ponting.

The competition was played under match play rules, with each member from one team playing each of the opposite team's players over the four days.

Ponting provided a humorous moment at the start of his clash with Key yesterday, when he pulled out the New Zealand flag.

Despite favouring the proposed new flag in the ongoing flag referendum, Key draped the flag around himself.

Former Black Cap captains Brendon McCullum and Stephen Fleming, and former All Black Justin Marshall also featured in the New Zealand team.

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