Tight Finish in BSR VIVACOM Pro-Am
With a safe regulation par on the first hole of a sudden death play-off, Shane McHenry claimed the PGAs of Europe-endorsed, 4th BlackSeaRama VIVACOM Pro-Am in Bulgaria as his last challenger, Gary Birch Jnr, failed at the final hurdle by pushing his tee shot out of bounds.
The pair had survived all the varied hazards of the ‘triple treat’ tournament played over 54-holes on three different and demanding golf courses on one-under-par 214, McHenry having caught overnight leader Birch with a 69 against a 70…leaving one last drama to unfold.
Designer Gary Player no doubt had the notion of possible golfing theatre with his signature hole in the shape of sudden death play-offs when he fashioned the 212-metre par three 18th located between the clubhouse and the threatening cliffs on the BlackSeaRama course.
A cliff-hanger of a finish it certainly provided with the pair being confronted by the challenging tee shot that offered ‘sudden death’ for all who miss the green, a trap that McHenry avoided…but Birch didn’t !
Austria-based, Australia-born McHenry (pictured) was left to merely get down in two putts for the top prize.
Although they had finished tied on 214 the head-to-head final day leaders arrived there by a vastly different route….Birch Jnr on a golfing version of a switchback ride and McHenry with a rather less eventful eighteen holes.
The excellent BlackSeaRama course was to prove something of a relief from Friday’s gale-tossed lottery at Thracian Cliffs. Beginning as it does with the opportunity of an opening birdie four, it also offers further such chances on its par five holes.
Birch, however, sprinkled his front nine with an erratic mixture of four birdies, two pars, two bogeys and a double bogey to be level-par for the day at the turn. It was only then that he settled down as a possible winner with a run of seven pars topped by birdies on the final two holes…quite a journey!
McHenry, in contrast, birdied the first, parred the next nine, added another birdie and three pars and reached the 15th before leaking a shot. His birdie-birdie-par finish took him safely into the play-off.
These two apart, the ‘triple treat’ proved to be a triple battle for the field of professionals and their amateur partners. In third place for the pro prize money was Morgon Olofsson…seven strokes behind the other two on plus six.
Results – CLICK HERE
Day 2 – BIRCH Jnr SURVIVES WINDSWEPT TEST IN BULGARIA
Take a stretch of cliff-face terrain, ask Gary Player to create a golf course to attract all but the faint hearted, turn up the wind volume to something like gale-force off the Black Sea and what do you get? Thracian Cliffs on Day Two of the BlackSeaRama VIVACOM Pro-am!
Bulgaria’s Cape Kaliakra region, where golf is becoming established as a ‘must visit’ attraction for the sport’s travelling new-experience seekers, continued to showcase its many and varied features at the half-way stage of the PGAs of Europe-endorsed tournament.
If the first round on the Lighthouse course was tough enough – only four of the assembled professionals breaking par – the second round, as scores were blown off-par by gusts from the sea, was described by more than one of the participants as ‘brutal’.
A clue to the overall difficulty was provided by overnight leader Shane McHenry whose three under became two over despite a promising start of a birdie at the third in the middle of two pars each side…but, after that, six bogeys from the sixth reflected a struggling, windswept day for all.
This bogey run opened the way for Gary Birch Jnr to inch into a one-stroke lead going into the third and final day on the back of an heroic three-over par 75, one of the best round of a day of high scoring and one ahead of McHenry.
Son of a golf pro, British-born, reared mainly in Germany and currently resident in Abu Dhabi in the PGA of the United Arab Emirates, 34-year old Birch was able to call on the experience of having learned his trade in the European, the European Challenge, the South African Sunshire and the EPD Tours.
Martin Dewhurst was another to hang in there after a decent first day, also with a battling 75 for a four-over-par 36 hole total and his deserved place among the final day front runners. Based at the Costa Navarino Resort in Greece, Dewhurst moved to within two shots of his Austrian compatriot, McHenry for third place.
Among the opening leaders to hold on well was Neil Turley, Bulgarian-based but occupied mainly with off-course matters these days, whose plus-7 for plus-6 overall, was commendable in the conditions and would have been better but for the ugliest of nines on the par-five third.
As for those whose scores suffered most, Ulas Karatas could have been excused for feeling as though he had fallen off the cliff as his challenging first round two under par 69 plummeted to a heart-lurching 85, thirteen over par, ‘helped’ by three double bogeys and a triple for an eight at the par five tenth.
Israeli Oren Geri, another of the first-round hares, suffered similarly as he handed in an 80, eight over par…though they were not the only ones to suffer on a day when the elements combined with the toughest of golf courses to ensure that bridies were outnumbered by bogeys, or worse, on a ratio of three to one.
Day 1 – Shane, the Aussie from Austria, Leads BlackSeaRama VIVACOM Pro-Am
Clifftop golf, against a spectacular Black Sea backdrop, proved a tough challenge for the fourth PGAs of EuropeBlackSeaRama Pro-Am field – but a quartet of players, Shane McHenry, Gary Birch, Ulas Karatas and Neil Turley, managed to beat the par of 71 in helping to showcase golf in Bulgaria.
Of this leading foursome, Austria-based Australian Shane McHenry cashed in on the experience of a top four finish in last year’s event with an opening three-under-par 68 on the Ian Woosnam signature Lighthouse Course as those around him struggled to make it into red figures.
The 38-year-old opened with a birdie three, carved further shots off par at the sixth, tenth and 16th and was heading for a four-under-par finish until he tangled with the long, testing 18th for the only blemish on a splendid opening salvo.
In his spasmodic breaks from his Alpine located day job, McHenry clearly finds that visits to the scenically spectacular Cape Kaliakra Resorts bring the best out of him. In forging his top-four finish last year he succeeded in setting a course record 68 on the superb but scary Thracian Cliffs course, perched perilously above the Black Sea.
Gary Birch Jr was the first to make a meaningful challenge for the pacemaker role but though he carded birdies at the third, tenth and 15th, a bogey at the short but tricky par-three 11th, where correct club selection is crucial but not easy to decide, restricted him to two-under 69.
Birch was joined on two under by Ulas Karatas, the Turkish player who has previously graced leaderboards of PGAs of Europe-endorsed tournamants, including this years Kempinski ‘The Dome’ event at Antalya.
It was perhaps no coincidence that his opening round was marred by the same holes that prevented McHenry and Birch enjoying a trouble-free 18-holes. Like the first round leader he claimed four birdies but dropped shots at the 11th and 18th, where problem obviously lurked for all.
As the day’s statistics were to show, these were the most difficult holes on the day while the 16th was the least difficult. The day ended on a satisfying note for Neil Turley, one of the pioneers of professional golf in Bulgaria and instigator of the BSR pro-am, when he claimed fourth place with a one-under-par 70.
In this year’s ‘triple treat’ , three-course format the professionals and their three-man teams of amateurs now move from the Lighthouse Course to two Gary Player designs, the Thracian Cliffs for the second round before the final bid for a share of the pro prize fund and amateur prizes at the stylish BlackSeaRama Resort.