Fijian Paradise for Unheralded Jeffress

Steve Jeffress topped the leaderboard at the Fiji International.
Steve Jeffress topped the leaderboard at the Fiji International.

Fiji: Seasoned professional Steve Jeffress from Australia overcame countryman Jake Higginbottom in an absorbing final day head-to-head battle to win the inaugural US$1 million Fiji International.

Jeffress, aged 38, recorded far and away the biggest win of his 15-year professional career after shooting a two-under-par 70 at Natadola Bay Championship Golf Course.

He finished the tournament on 10-under, four ahead of Higginbottom, who closed with a 74.

Jeffress received a cheque for US$180,000, while Higginbottom also enjoyed the biggest pay-day of his fledgling career earning US$102,000. 

The event is jointly sanctioned by the PGA Tour of Australasia and OneAsia.

“I am over the moon and a bit surprised,” said Jeffress, whose most significant win previously came in the 2006 Victorian PGA. “It has been years of hard work and family support so it feels very special. I just hit it in the right places this week.”

They had started the day sharing the lead but at the turn Higginbottom held a two-shot advantage. However, the wheels started to come off when he bogeyed the 10th and 13th.

The turning point proved to be the par-three 15th, where the two front-runners, arrived tied on seven-under for the tournament.

There, Higginbottom dumped a poor tee shot into a hazard well short of the green and although he was able to rescue a bogey with a remarkable chip in from behind the green, Jeffress made birdie for a two-shot swing.  

A bogey on the ensuing hole by Higginbottom virtually handed the title to Jeffress, who had the comfort of a three-shot lead with two to play. It was a lead he did not relinquish and which he embellished with a birdie on 18.

“If you’d have said I would finish second at the start of the week I would have taken it. I played nice but Jeffo played unbelievable,” said Higginbottom, who won the 2012 New Zealand Open as an amateur.

He hit a 52-degree wedge into the hazard on the 15th where he said he was put off by a distant cry from the nearby beach. “I made a couple of mistakes but apart from that I was pretty solid again. It was a little disappointing as I was in control there for a while.”

Australians Terry Pilkadaris and Andrew Dodt tied for third eight behind the winner after rounds of 71 and 76 respectively.

Hur In-hoi from Korea, unmistakable thanks to his bleached blonde hair, finished outright fifth after carding a 75.

Fiji’s Vijay Singh, who designed the Natadola Bay course, finished with a 73 to end in 10th place.

“It was tough out there, tough putting, tough driving. It just doesn’t let up, there is so much trouble and you have to focus on every shot. However, I really enjoyed being here and it was so nice to see people come out and watch me,” said Singh.

Three-time Major winner Nick Price from Zimbabwe, aged 57, finished off a solid four rounds with a 75 to end in a tie for 35th place.

The next event on OneAsia is the US$1 million Nanshan China Masters at Nanshan International Golf Club from October 9-12.

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