Ryan Fox holds his second DP World (European) Tour trophy – photo Getty images
Ryan Fox has led the way in what has been a good weekend for New Zealand golf, Fox winning his second European Tour title, Daniel Hillier finishing third in a European Challenge Tour event in South Africa and Ben Campbell finishing runner-up at the PGA Tour of Australasia’s Vic Open and, for Campbell, gaining a start at the Open Championship in July
Fox took a six shot lead into the final round of the Ras Al Khaimah Classic in the UAE but, as is often the case, such leads can prove difficult to defend. He did eventually win by five but there were occasions during the final round when things appeared to be going against the 35 year old, his lead reduced to just two early in the second nine.
It would be a birdie putt of some 45 feet at the 12th that got things back on track and with further birdies at the 13th and 18th he would win by five over England’s Ross Fisher.
The win was worth 299,000 (NZ$508,000) and move him from his current 211th place in the world ranking to around 120th when the revised rankings are announced later today.
It might have appeared like a comfortable win but there were some nervous moments for the long hitting Aucklander who won his second European Tour title nearly three years after his first in Perth in February of 2019.
“Probably relief is the main emotion, obviously it was a bit of a struggle today,” said Fox after his win. “Sleeping on a six shot lead, I didn’t sleep very well last night. Obviously a couple of the guys came at me early. I was a bit nervous, I had that awful feeling in the pit of my stomach all day but I’m very happy with how I played, a couple of great shots coming down the stretch and it was certainly nice walking down the last with putter in hand with so many putts to win.
“I learned that I’m pretty resilient, obviously there was some bad stuff in there but I just kept plugging away. There were a couple of big momentum putts on the back nine, the one on ten for par and then the one on 12 just kick-started everything and I felt like I played pretty solid the rest of the way in.
“It was going south pretty quickly there and I’m pretty happy I could turn it around and show plenty of mental fortitude there.
“Probably the one on 12 was the turning point. I haven’t been a massive fan of that tee shot for two weeks and I got away with one there. Obviously I wasn’t aiming there, I pushed it a little bit, but at least I hit it solid.
“I thought I hit a decent second shot, the breeze just didn’t really move it left and thankfully the hole got in the way with my putt, to be honest I probably would have had three or four feet coming back but it looked good all the way and that just changed everything, it gave me more of a buffer.
“Obviously 13 and 14 you feel like you have a couple of birdie holes coming home and I managed to birdie 13 which made it a little easier coming down the stretch, but obviously not that easy.
“I’ve got a nervous energy, my old man is the same – he paces around on the phone – and I think I probably walked 25km today with how much I paced around the greens. That’s just me and I was definitely thinking about the family coming down the last couple of holes.
“It’s pretty big for them, they’ve got to come over to Europe every year and that’s a little bit harder with a little one now, and this win makes that a little bit easier for them to do that.
“I’m a bit disappointed I missed (his 14-month-old daugher) Isabel walking for the first time and I’ve got ten days in a quarantine hotel when I get home to think about that as well, but I’m very much looking forward to seeing them when I get out of the hotel in late February. The first couple of days in there I might have a pretty sore head but after that I think it’ll feel pretty good with the trophy.”
Hillier bounced back from a disastrous start to his final round of the Dimension Data Pro Am at the Fancourt Estate in South Africa after beginning the final round just one from the lead.
A bogey at the 2nd hole was followed by a double bogey at the third and any hope he had of winning a second Challenge Tour title appeared gone. He would, though, add five more birdies before a bogey at the last saw him finish alone in 3rd place and four from the winner, Alexander Knappe of Germany.
The event was the first of several in South Africa and Tanzania over the next few weeks allowing the 23 year old New Zealander to build some early season momentum. It provides a solid start to his second season on the European Challenge Tour from which he no doubt hopes to emerge as a European Tour card holder at season’s end.
Ben Campbell finished runner-up at the Vic Open at 13th beach on the Bellarine Peninsula and a wrap of that event can be seen here.