Friday, 19 March 2010
The Tournament of Champions may have been reduced to 36 holes due to the inclement weather, but the cliffhanging climax on Sunday afternoon was well worth the wait.
It seemed pre-destined that Irishman Eddie Polland who, like Gardner, is a youthful and energetic 51 years young, would claim his first Seniors title. Instead, it was Preston-born Garner who became the latest first-time champion on the European Seniors Tour.
Polland, who had opened with a three under par 69, appeared to be riding off into the Buckinghamshire sunset as the winner when he birdied the 10th, 15th and 16th to climb to six under par.
That afforded him the cushion of a two stroke lead over Garner, another Irishman Liam Higgins and first round leader, American Bill Brask.
However a sting in the tail awaited Polland, who had lost two play-offs in consecutive weeks to Brian Huggett earlier in the season. A dreaded shank from a desperate lie on the fringe of the 17th cost him a bogey. He then missed the green at the last, pitched to three feet and failed to sink the putt for a par.
Suddenly, Polland was the clubhouse leader on four under par, 140, but Garner still had to negotiate the 363 yard 17th. Taking out his driver to fire his tee shot across the water, Garner summoned up the shot of the week.
His effort flew all the way across the dog-leg to eight feet and his eagle putt stayed out. However the birdie was enough to take him in front of Polland, Higgins and, playing just behind, Brask.
Garner hads been forced to sink a testy five footer for a par at the 16th and at the last he did it again after leaving his 25 footer short up the hill. The man with the Payne Stewart-style 'plus twos' punched the air more in relief than ecstacy as his long wait for another title was over.
Neither Higgins not Brask could make a two at the last and so Garner - who went into the record books as the player who made the 1973 Ryder Cup team but wasn't picked to play - took the title and climbed to 15th on the Money List.
Garner admitted: "I didn't know what Eddie had done, but I had to got for it at the 17th. even though I'm the shortest hitter on the Tour! There was no backing out. I was picking the eagle putt out of the hole but it swerved at the last minute.
"Even on the 18th tee I told my caddie not to tell me what was going on until I hit my tee shot. I misjudged the first putt but the second one was what all the practice over the years is for. I was very grateful to see the ball disappear." That moment of glory for Garner was the instant Polland knew he'd missed a wonderful opportunity. He said: "I had a terrible lie at the 17th but the ball came off the toe. I thought I hit a good putt at the 17th but it didn't go in. Still, I've had a good season, although it was a desperately disappointing finish."
Brask, a former club pro from Minnesota, had led after the first round with a 68. Then the rain and gales lashed the country on Saturday, forcing play to be abandoned at 2.30pm with the leaders having played just three holes.
In order to finish the event on time, officials curtailed the championship to 36 holes, with players resuming on Sunday where they had left off the previous day.
That effectively ruled out Tommy Horton - chasing a hat-trick of titles - and Brian Huggett, who filled second place in the Money List. Horton eventually shot a creditable 72 to tie for 13th with Huggett tied for 27th.
But no-one could halt Horton's charge to the Money List title and he received the John Jacobs Trophy for a third time in a row, and the fourth in all, from the Tour's elder statesman himself.

Horton will be the playing captain in the Praia D'el Rey European Cup between a Seniors team and the ELPGA in Portugal next month. The other team members are: Huggett, Polland, David Jones, Jim Rhodes, Bobby Verwey, Neil Coles, Denis O'Sullivan, Brian Waites and - as a wild card - Christy O'Connor Jnr.

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