Thursday, May 05, 2016

AYRSHIRE MATCHPLAY CHAMPIONSHIP - Shanks birdies his way to first ever matchplay title win

2016 Ayrshire Matchplay Champion
John Shanks
John Shanks (Irvine) won the Ayrshire Matchplay Championship for the first time at Western Gailes on Thursday 5th May, beating defending champion Michael Smyth (Royal Troon) in the final.

After difficult cold and windy conditions on the first three nights of the championship, the finalists and spectators enjoyed excellent sunny conditions for the final on Thursday night.

Three times winner Michael Smyth took an early lead in the final when he put his second at the opening hole to six feet from the hole, whilst Shanks pulled his tee shot left, was short in two and took three more to get down for an untidy bogey five.

The match soon settled into the close encounter everyone expected between the two county players, the next three holes being halved in par fours to leave Smyth one ahead after four.

Smyth had the chance to extend his lead at the fifth with Shanks bunkered to the left of the green in two and unable to make better than a bogey five, however Smyth's first put came up a few feet short and his second putt spun out of the hole, allowing Shanks an unlikely half and leaving just one hole between them in the match.

At the par five sixth hole, Smyth played an excellent second shot to just off the left edge of the green but Shanks followed him with an even better second which came to rest on the green, fifteen feet from the hole. Smyth chipped up close but was powerless as Shanks slotted home his eagle putt to square the match.

Both players found the green at the par three seventh from the tee, but whilst Shanks secured his par three, Smyth's first putt went three feet past and he missd the return to give Shanks the lead in the match for the first time.

the 2016 Ayrshire Matcholay Finalists
At Western Gailes
At the eight hole John Shanks found a bunker on the left from the tee whilst Smyth was in perfect position on the fairway, but good fortune saw Shank's bunker shot land full in the burn in front of the green before bouncing out backwards and coming to rest on the fairway just short of the burn. Shanks took full advantage of his good fortune, playing an excellent chip to a foot or so from the hole to give him an unlikely par and allow him to half the hole and maintain his one hole advantage in the match.

On the final hole of the outward half, Smyth misjudged his approach shot which came to rest long and right of the green, leaving him with a difficult chip back down to the hole, whilst Shanks' approach finished twenty five feet below the hole. Two putts from Shanks was good enough to take the hole with a winning par four, and extend his lead to two holes at the turn, after Smyth was unable to get up and down from the back of the green.

Smyth was in danger of letting his title slip from his grasp, and things looked bleaker for him when Shanks' approach at the tenth came to rest twelve feet from the hole, but Smyth produced one of his best shots of the night under pressure, his second shot coming to rest just three feet from the pin to set up a winning birdie and reduce the deficit to one hole, after Shanks' birdie effort failed to drop.

The eleventh hole marks the start of a remarkable run of holes which would ultimately see Shanks storm to an impressive title win. A little right from the tee, Smyth played a fine shot from a difficult lie to come up just short of the green in two, whilst Shanks was short and left of the plateau green, just slightly closer to the hole than Smyth. Playing first, Smyth chipped up to ten feet, only to see Shanks chip in from forty feet for a winning birdie three to restore his two hole advantage. 

The position remained the same when both players had par fours at the following hole and at the thirteenth both players had excellent tee shots, Shanks finishing six feet away with Smyth just outside him, around eight feet from the hole. Smyth's effort pulled up just short of the hole and Shanks took advantage by holing his putt for a winning birdie two and a three hole lead.

Turning back towards the clubhouse, with the breeze slightly behind, the par five fourteenth was within range for both players in two shots. Smyth was unfortunate to see his second shot drift into the greenside bunker on the right whilst Shanks' second pulled up forty yards from the green, in the semi rough. A superb chip to within two feet of the hole set up a second successive winning birdie for Shanks after Smyth's brave attempt saw his bunker shot finish six feet from the hole with his birdie attempt just slipping past.

With a run of three birdies in four holes, Shanks stood on the par three fifteenth tee dormie four up in the match, and maintained the pressure on Smyth with a tee shot that covered the flag all the way, coming to rest twenty five feet past the hole. Smyth played an equally good tee shot, which stopped just a little further from the hole, on the left of the green. Smyth's birdie attempt slipped three feet past the hole whilst Shanks rolled his birdie attempt to within eighteen inches of the cup. When Smyth failed to convert his par putt, he conceded Shanks' putt for a three, giving Shanks his first ever Ayrshire Matchplay Championship title with a 5 & 3 victory, with excellent scoring of three under par when the match ended.

The match, refereed by former Scottish Golf Union President and Ayrshire Golf Association Executive member Iain Harvey, was played in the best of spirits and in the most sporting manner, to the credit of both players.

At the conclusion of play, Ayrshire Golf Association President James McMurdo presented vouchers to both players before handing over the trophy and commemorative medal to the 2016 Ayrshire matchplay Champion John Shanks.

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