A reinvigorated Jake Shepherd produced an inspired performance to win the MENA Golf Tour Championship, beating a charging Sean McNamara in a sudden-death playoff at the Al Ain Equestrian, Shooting and Golf Club on Wednesday.
The 21-year-old professional from England birdied the first playoff hole (the par-5, 18th) from four feet after both the players carded an identical 12-under-par 201 to register the biggest victory of his career since turning professional in January earlier this year.
With this win, which carried a cash prize of $13,500, Shepherd also walked away with the Order of Merit title with a total earnings of $17,749. Peter Richardson, also of England, and America’s McNamara ($13,271) followed the leader on the Order of Merit for professionals.
The top three were handed invitations to compete in the 2012 Omega Dubai Desert Classic to be held in February along with Morocco’s Ahmed Marjan, who topped the Order of Merit for amateurs.
His Highness Dr. Shaikh Sultan bin Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan presented the prizes in the company of HH Shaikh Fahim bin Sultan Al Qasimi, Chairman of the Arab Golf Federation, HE Mohammed Rashid Al Nasseri, general manager of Al Ain Equestrian, Shooting and Golf Club, and Mohamed Juma Buamaim, chairman of the MENA Golf Tour.
The day belonged to young Shepherd who kept his cool when it mattered most to put the Ras Al Khaimah Classic meltdown behind him. Starting the day one shot off the pace, Shepherd needed a birdie on the closing hole, a par-5, to match McNamara’s score.
And he delivered just that after reaching the green in two. Similar was the story in the playoff when he calmly holed for a birdie from close. “I am feeling absolutely over the moon. My parents will be proud of my achievement,” said Shepherd who had a great chance to win the Ras Al Khaimah Classic two weeks ago, but he squandered a massive five-shot lead in the final round.
“You always learn from experience – and I certainly did,” he said. “I am feeling a bit emotional at the moment and it will take some time for the feeling to sink in. I thoroughly enjoyed playing on this professionally-run Tour.
“Now I look forward to coming to Dubai in February for the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. Playing in that event will be just awesome,” said Shepherd, who plans to give all the money he earned to his dad. “I am not going keep even a penny. This will be a present to my dad,” said an excited Shepherd who played in the last three of the four events on the Tour.
American’s McNamara said the moment Jake birdied the last hole, “I knew he will have an advantage in the playoff since he hits the ball very long off the tee. I missed the fairway on the left, but did well to chip close to the hole. In the end, it was not good enough and I had to settle for a par.
“You do feel a bit disappointed, but I have achieved what I wanted to – an invitation to the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. This is the biggest prize I have won since turning pro in January. So no regrets.”
Germany’s Gary Birch Junior, Aadil Jehangir of Pakistan and Morocco’s Younes El Hassani, who all carded an identical 68 in the final round, finished in a tie for third on nine-under-par 204, one shot ahead of overnight leader Jonathan Porteous of Scotland and Richardson.
Dubai-based amateur Michael Harradine shot rounds of 67, 73 and 69 to emerge as the top amateur in the Tour Championship, but his four-under-par score wasn’t good enough to prevent Marjan from running away with the Order of Merit title.
Morocco’s Marjan, who featured in all the four events on the Tour, tallied 127 points, well ahead of Daniel Owen of England (105) and Mustapha El_Maouas (94), also of Morocco. “I am really pleased with my overall performance. Playing in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic will be a great learning curve,” said Marjan, who is the number one amateur in Morocco.
“I have no intention of turning pro at the moment. I will think about it five or six year later,” said the 18-year-old prodigy, who has brought his average score down to 72.5 from a 77 in just 10 months.
Leading final scores (par-71)
201 – Jake Shepherd (England) 66 68 67 (first playoff hole win)
201 – Sean McNamara (US) 65 70 66
204 – Gary Birch Jr. (Germany) 68 68 68; Aadil Jehangir (Pakistan) 68 68 68; Younes El Hassani (Morocco)
205 – Jonathan Porteous (Scotland) 65 68 72; Peter Richardson (England) 66 69 70
206 – Greg Nicolson (Scotland) 68 71 67; Ross Canavan (England) 69 68 69
207 – Simon Dunn (England) 70 69 68
ORDER OF MERIT (Professionals)
Jake Shepherd (England) $17,749
Peter Richardson (England) $ 15,087
Sean McNamara (US) $ 13, 271
Zane Scotland (England) $ 9,809
Faycal Serghini (Morocco) $9,277.5
Yasin Ali (England) $ 8,231
ORDER OF MERIT (Amateurs):
1. Ahmed Marjan (Morocco) 127 points
2 Daniel Owen (England) 105
3 Mustapha El-Maouas (Morocco) 94
4T Mohammed Bellaroussia (Morocco) 72
4T Michael Harradine (Switzerland)72.