Sweden’s Pierre Fulke narrowly missed out on keeping the Walter Hagen Trophy in European hands after losing 2 and 1 to American Steve Stricker in the final of the WGC – Accenture Match Play Championship at the Metropolitan Golf Club in Melbourne.
Fulke, winner of the Volvo Masters and Scottish PGA Championship on the 2000 European Tour International Schedule, was seeking to become the second successive European Tour Member to claim the title following Darren Clarke’s victory over Tiger Woods last February.
But after fighting back from three down to just one down with eight to play four consecutive putts to level the match stayed above ground. On the 17th Fulke pulled his two iron approach into a bunker, splashed out to 12 feet, but missed his putt to keep the match alive.
Stricker twice moved ahead early in the match during the morning session only to hand the lead straight back with subsequent mistakes but three bogeys from the 15th by Fulke, who defeated the number one seed Ernie Els in the semi-final, enabled the American to go to lunch with a two hole advantage.
The first three holes after lunch were halved with solid pars before both players birdied the fourth. Fulke had a chance to close the gap to one hole after hitting his approach on the sixth to five feet but the putt slipped past the hole.
On the next hole Fulke’s birdie putt again slipped by the hole before Stricker stepped up and holed his to press home his advantage.
Stricker found the eighth green in two but, after sending his eagle putt off the green, conceded the hole to Fulke’s birdie. Seemingly in trouble on the next in a bunker in front of the green after an errant tee-shot, Stricker played a beautiful recovery to three feet to save his par and Fulke was once again frustrated as another birdie putt stayed above ground.
Fulke narrowed the deficit with a par on the tenth, Stricker’s par putt lipping out, but just as it looked as if Fulke would get another hole back Stricker made another sensational recovery from the bunker to keep his nose in front.
Birdie putts on the next three holes by Fulke failed to drop and by the 15th five successive holes had been halved with pars. On the 16th Fulke found the heart of the fairway and looked to be in pole position with Stricker in the fairway bunker. Stricker found the edge of the green with his second and chipped to five feet. Fulke hit the green but his birdie putt to level the match again narrowly missed and Stricker duly holed his putt for a half.
On the 17th both players drove into the middle of the fairway but Fulke was caught by the greenside bunker with his second. Stricker’s par was conceded leaving Fulke with a 12 foot putt to take the match down the last which he was unable to convert.
“This means a lot and is beyond my expectations,” said Stricker moments after his victory. “It gets me going where I think I should be. My stomach was in a knot. Pierre started driving a lot better and I was just trying to hang on.”
In the play-off for third place Japan’s Toru Taniguchi defeated Ernie Els 4 and 3.