By Zaheer E. Clarke
Published on January 16, 2017
In an exciting finish, United Kingdom’s Paul Eales won the 50th staging of Jamaica Open golf tournament by one-shot at the Half Moon Golf Course last Saturday.
Despite scoring a three over par 75 on the final day, Eales held off the persistent challenge of 1993 Jamaica Open champion Tom Gillis as the tournament went down to the last hole of the 54-hole golf tournament.
Eales, who shot a four under par 68 on day one and an even par 72 on day two, led the tournament wire-to-wire to capture his first Jamaica Open title.
With a one-shot lead over American James Hazen after round one, Eales extended his lead to four shots over the American trio of John Bloomfield, Kenny Goodykoontz and eventually runner-up Gillis by the end of day two.
The last group on the final day featured Eales, Gillis and Kenny Goodykoontz, with Gillis storming to a share of the lead with Eales by the seventh hole. However, double bogeys on the ninth and fifteenth holes twice stymied Gillis surge and gave Eales what should have been comfortable three-shot leads to coast home and win the tournament. When Gillis birdied the 16th and Eales scratched a bogey on the 17th, Eales imposing lead had hurriedly shrunk to a fragile one-shot lead. As both men walked to the 18th tee, the tension rose and the gallery grew with diehard and casual golf fans, players and caddies, all expecting a glorious end to the 50th Jamaica Open. Fittingly, the final round drama had prolonged to the 18th and last hole to decide the champion.
Both Eales and Gillis hit second shots on the par-four 18th green, which found the right and left bunkers respectively. Gillis desperately needed a birdie out of the left sand trap to ante up the pressure on Gillis. Gillis’s third shot from the left sand trap came within three feet of the hole, leaving him a relatively easy par putt. However, Eales produced his most sublime shot for last; hitting a chip out of the right sand trap that slowly crawled within a foot of the hole for an easy tap-in for par, and the championship title.
When asked about Gillis’s unrelenting challenge in the final round, Eales remarked, “Tom, he is never going to go away. It was just the question of hanging on. I was shipping a bit of oil, but we managed to get the job done.”
As he walked off the 18th hole, Eales showered spontaneous praise on the organisers and the hospitality of the Jamaican people. He added further heartfelt commendations on the quality of the golf course.
“The golf course has been the winner this week. We’ve had a strong wind but I’m the only guy to shoot under par. So that’s testimony to how great this golf course is and everyone in Jamaica should be proud of it”, Eales remarked.
Though shooting an eight-over par 80 on the final day, Florida and New Jersey-based Jamaican Owen Samuda copped the amateur title. Samuda led the amateur section of the tournament, like Eales in the pro section, from start to finish. He carded a three over par 75 on day one of the tournament to lead another Jamaican Oshae Haye by three shots. However, all the talk on day one was about Haye’s miraculous shot on the par-3 14th hole, which gave him the tournament’s sole hole-in-one. By the end of day two, which saw winds gusting at approximately 30 miles per hour, Samuda amazingly extended his lead to an imperious seven shots with a six over par 78 in howling conditions.
In an interview with the ZFLS, Samuda declared, “The golf course was very tough – very, very, very tough. Everyone had their troubles on it, but you had to stay focused and keep going until the day was over.”
Haye and Sean Morris ended up second and third respectively behind Samuda, with both shooting 74, the low round of the final day among the amateurs.
Morris, Jamaica’s number one local-based amateur, who is optimistic of going pro on the senior PGA or European tours this year, declared, “Today was the best of all three days.”
In all aspects, it was.
© Zaheer Clarke