Gates fights back to win

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LONGTIME leader Bobby Gates prevailed in a tense finish to the Michael Hill New Zealand Golf Open — winning his debut Nationwide Tour event by a single shot.

His playing partner Andrew Dodt of Australia heaped the pressure on the American, joining him in the lead ahead of the 17th — but Gates, playing in his first event as a Nationwide player, fought back to claim a narrow victory as Dodt pushed the self-destruct button.

Dodt looked to have thrown away victory on the penultimate hole, finding sand to double-bogey the par-5 71st hole.

But in one last desperate lunge at Gates, who had been in the lead since the opening round, Dodt birdied the final hole by nailing a 25-foot putt.

That left Gates needing to sink his par putt of a couple of feet.

Gates, 24, showed the coolness of a tour veteran to hole the winning putt.

“It was a great experience,” says Gates, whose girlfriend Lauren Johnson was on his bag all week.

“It’s been a great learning experience all round.”

Gates opened his final round with two birdies in his first three holes, but Dodt didn’t give up. ”All I could do was concentrate on my own game,” Dodt says. “[Gates’s performance]  was out of my control.”

Dodt, who turned 24 three days before the first round, holed two big putts to birdie 12 and 13, and when Gates double bogeyed 16 — finding water off the tee – the Aussie found himself tied in the lead at 14 under.

“Really 16 was the only shot I missed all week,” Gates says. “It had the perfect line but I didn’t get all of it and it went in the water.”

But as quickly as the door opened for Dodt, he slammed it shut on himself.

He proceeded to hit it way right off the 17th tee, almost out of bounds, and had to chip backwards on to the fairway. Aiming his 4-iron 225m to the flag, he found the left trap. And then a missed putt once on the green delivered a double bogey and a crippling blow to his chances.

Somehow Dodt dug deep to find birdie on the final hole. He put his tee shot in play, so much so he could allow himself the luxury of hitting left into the flag, using the slope to bring his ball down.

His 25-footer never looked like missing — handing all the pressure on to the American rookie.

But Gates never buckled to claim his maiden Nationwide victory in his first start on the second-tier tour — the 13th Nationwide player to win on debut.

With $US108,000 in his pocket and “winner” beside his name, Gates is one step closer to his “ultimate goal” of playing on the PGA Tour.

“What I can take out of this win is that I played against some of the best golfers in the world and for this week I was the best.”

This year’s official crowd figure of 24,246 people through the front gates was up on last year’s 23,882 total when the tournament was played on a more suitable March date. The breakdown for this year was: Thursday: 3615; Friday 4478; Saturday 6912; Sunday 9241 (1120 up on last year’s final day).