The inaugural Sharjah Senior Golf Masters presented by Shurooq reached a thrilling conclusion as South Africa’s Chris Williams claimed his first title in six years at the first hole of a sudden-death play-off against Englishman Gary Marks.
“Words fail me. After being eight years on the Tour and finally getting my second win after all these years is just amazing,” said Williams, whose last win came at the Aberdeen Brunei Senior Masters presented by Stapleford Forum. “I’ve been playing well and scoring well in South Africa leading up to this event, playing in as many pro-ams as I could to keep my game sharp. So that gave me a lot of confidence before this week.”
Like all of the players this week, Williams was highly impressed by the Peter Harradine-designed course at Sharjah Golf & Shooting Club – the first time a Senior Tour event had been played on a nine-hole layout.
“The course was amazing, the fairways where very good and the greens were magnificent,” said the 57 year old. “Everybody I’ve spoken to enjoyed playing this golf course. We didn’t know how a nine-hole course was going to work but it’s been tremendous and it really gives you food for thought.”
The event also marked the first time the European Senior Tour had ever visited the emirate of Sharjah and the organisers could scarcely have hoped for a more captivating final day.
Overnight leader James Kingston, got off to a slow start but Williams, who had broken the course record with a 65 in the opening round, caught fire again playing the front nine in just 32 blows, which included a spellbinding run of birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie from the fourth to the seventh.
But as Kingston continued to struggle for momentum on the second circuit of the nine-hole track, it was Marks who seized the initiative, carding three birdies on the bounce from 13 to 15 to move into a share of the lead with Williams.
The pair remained locked together with matching pars over the remaining three holes before each signing for rounds of four under 68, 13 under 203 for the tournament, meaning a return trip down the 18th for a play-off.
Marks found the middle of the fairway with his tee shot while Williams, just as he did in regulation play, found the light rough on the left. Both players found the edge of the green with their approach shots, but while Marks knocked his putt around seven foot past and missed the return, Williams rolled his five feet past and sunk his follow up for par and victory.
“I got off to a great start today,” said Williams. “I was five under through seven holes and then Gary came back with three birdies on the back nine. But nothing is easy out here, you’ve got to work hard for these wins no matter where they are.”
Marks, who revealed that he hadn’t played much golf over the close season, was disappointed not to close out the victory but could take plenty of positives from his performance in the opening event of the 2017 season.
“I suddenly caught up with about three or four holes to play and the prospect of getting into a play-off, or winning, became a reality. For two thirds of the round Chris had a good lead and was three or four shots clear of me at one point after his spurt on the front nine. We were just trying to hold on and hole some putts which wasn’t really happening. Then I made three birdies on the trot and Chris dropped one so the complexion completely changed.
“I was thrilled to get in the play-off – it was obviously a sad way for it to end for me, but it was much more than I could have hoped for coming to the tournament as I hadn’t been playing before this week.”
Last season’s Order of Merit runner up and Rookie of the Year Magnus Atlevi joined Kingston in third place at 12 under par while England’s Roger Chapman finished fifth at 10 under and reigning European Senior Tour Number One Paul Broadhurst finished sixth at nine under.
H.E Marwan Bin Jassim Al Sarkal – CEO of title sponsors the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq said: “I congratulate Chris Williams for being the hero of the championship and have nothing but praise for the high level of performance of all the players in the field this week. It’s been a great achievement by Sharjah in the hosting and organising of this event, which has attracted some of the Senior Tour’s best players. We thank the European Tour and all the partners and sponsors who contributed to making the event such a success.”
Sheikh Mohamed Al Thani Vice President of Sharjah Golf and Shooting Club said:
“We feel proud and honoured to be the host venue for the Sharjah Senior Golf Masters presented by Shurooq which reflects on the stature of the Emirates of Sharjah, which is one of the best destinations for golf and championships in the world.”
Williams echoed the sentiments of most of the players in the field when he commended the success of the inaugural Sharjah Senior Golf Masters and revealed his optimism that this week’s event could be the first step towards the establishment of a Middle East Swing to mirror the highly popular three-event run on the regular Tour.
“I’d love to have about seven events out here but this is a good start and this is how it happens,” he said. “You open up doors and establish contacts. This region is a great Mecca for golf – people come from all over the world to play here. There are a lot of courses here and some great players have taken up residence in the area so there’s no reason the Senior Tour can’t go forward from here.”