BY Daragh Small
Portmarnock golfer James Fox was crowned North of Ireland champion after a countback in fading light at Royal Portrush late on Friday evening.
Due to gusting winds of up to 50km per hour, causing final round tee times to be delayed, the Championship Committee exhausted all alternatives to find a winner through a sudden death playoff between Robert Moran (Castle) and Fox, after both finished tied after 72 holes.
However, both players were briefed before the playoff that a card countback would be utilised if light expired, and with the players tied after three holes, the 41-year-old was declared the winner.
“I can’t believe it, it was a really tough day out there,” said Fox.
“I don’t mind the wind too much, the rain is tough but the wind feels like home to me. It was just a long long day.
“It was a real grind but I am delighted to come out on top.
“it’s a dream come true to win one of these.”
With the wind howling and heavy rain forecast early on Friday morning, the course was shortened 300 yards as the players reverted to the white tees.
However some of the scoring stood up to the elements and Colm Campbell (Warrenpoint), in particular, kept the momentum from yesterday to take a two-shot lead into the turn before Brandon St John (Portmarnock) reeled him in.
Those who were out first in Round 3 struggled in difficult conditions and by lunchtime only four players were still under par. Fox remained in contention on -2, one shot off the lead held by Campbell, with Max Berrisford (Ilkley) back on -1 alongside St John.
Andrew Mulholland (Castlerock) shot the lowest round of the first wave, with his 73 keeping him well inside the top ten on +4.
The leaders began to drop shots later on in their back nine and Campbell eventually made the clubhouse at -2, one shot clear of Fox with Moran back in third place on level par.
Campbell had a three-shot lead early in Round 4 but that dwindled and Fox joined him at the top of the leaderboard momentarily on +1.
And while others came and went, it was left for Fox to hold onto the lead deep into the back nine.
Up ahead Moran was another who battled hard against the elements and he ended up having a 30-foot for birdie, that would have sealed his win in the end, but it went to playoff after Fox bogeyed 18.
The players were tied following three playoff holes and Fox was crowned champion ending his 12-year wait for a win with his first ever championship success.
“I broke in a pair of golf shoes but I didn’t really do it well enough and I wore them today.
My feet are pretty sore now but it’s a small price to pay now,” said Fox.
“I worked really hard at golf. I have played in nearly 80 championships because I’ve been playing for 20 years.
“That’s a long time waiting but hopefully that’s not the pinnacle, it’s the stepping stone to something better.”
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