Foster defies illness to triumph

Phil Casey,Pa,Johannesburg
Monday 20 January 2003 01:00 GMT
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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

England's Mark Foster claimed his maiden tour victory in unforgettable style today just hours after almost pulling out of the Dunhill Championship.

Foster triumphed in Johannesburg with an eagle on the second hole of a six–man sudden death play–off – only the second ever in European Tour history.

The 27–year–old from Worksop missed makeable putts on the 72nd hole and first hole in sudden death which would have won him the title at Houghton.

But he held his nerve to make it third time lucky with an eagle from 40 feet on the second play–off hole to beat Trevor Immelman, Paul Lawrie, Bradford Vaughan, Anders Hansen and Doug McGuigan to the £79,000 first prize.

The victory was all the more remarkable considering Foster had been taken ill overnight with a stomach bug that left him dehydrated and on the verge of withdrawing.

Forced to complete his third round at 6.30am on Sunday due to Saturday's thunderstorms, Foster thought he was out of contention at eight under but birdied three of his five remaining holes to close within three of leader Vaughan.

The break between rounds was spent with the on–site doctor and physios and the former Walker Cup player was able to take his place on the tee, although the omens did not look good when he bogeyed the second.

Four birdies in a row from the sixth changed all that however and two more coming home eventually saw him into the nerve–wracking play–off.

"Withdrawing was an option," admitted Foster, a close friend and neighbour of Lee Westwood in Worksop. "I was very tired after being up all night with a bug, I'm not sure if it was something I ate or to do with the sun.

"I can't thank the physios and doctor enough. They transformed me. After playing five holes this morning I was wilting but saw the doctor and got rehydrated and the two and a half hours between rounds was important."

Hansen was the first man eliminated in the play–off when he could only manage a par five on the first extra hole, the 18th, while Vaughan and Lawrie made birdies.

Immelman then also birdied, leaving his eagle chip inches short, and Foster had almost the same putt he had on the 72nd hole for an eagle from 12 feet and the title.

The result was the same however, narrowly missing on the left, but he made birdie before McGuigan missed from six feet to join Hansen on the sidelines.

"You do think probably you only get one chance but you have to tell yourself the odds are better the second time," added Foster, who won two titles and the Challenge Tour Order of Merit in 2001.

That left the foursome to play the 18th again and Foster this time hit a 7–wood into the heart of the green, some 40ft short of the pin.

Immelman chipped to within three feet to make almost certain of his birdie while Lawrie and Vaughan still had chances to also make a birdie four.

But Foster was not to be denied this time and rolled in his long eagle putt to go one better than last year when he finished joint second behind Justin Rose.

"I'd just told my caddy to go and get me a Mars bar in case we needed to go down the hole again because I felt my legs were going!" Foster added.

Earlier Lawrie was the first to set the clubhouse target at 15 under with birdies at three of his last four holes completing a superb closing 67.

Immelman then conjured up another spectacular finish with an eagle on the 18th in an inward half of 31, just seven days after making birdie on the 72nd hole and first hole of a play–off to win the South African Open.

Foster had a good chance to break the deadlock but saw his birdie putt slide past the hole, before McGuigan two–putted from just off the green to join the tie.

Hansen then matched Immelman's eagle on the 18th but could only stand and watch as Vaughan missed from six feet with a birdie putt which would have given him the title.

South African Vaughan, who also finished third last week, said: "I got it to 16 under with 12 holes to go but I just got a little bit scrappy in the middles of the round.

"I was proud of the way I fought back at the end to get it back to a play–off, but I'm very disappointed. I hit a great bunker shot in regulation and then hit the putt exactly where I was trying to and it was just the wrong line.

"A win would have been huge, a full exemption in Europe for three years. But I'm going to try and draw as many positives from this as I can. I'm playing nicely, I know I can compete and I don't think it will be long before I will be playing in the European Tour full time.

"It's a minor setback but it won't be long."

McGuigan could also reflect on a missed opportunity after taking two to escape from a bunker on the 17th and running up a double bogey six when leading the tournament.

The 32–year–old Scot, who was born in Durban, lived in Stirling for a couple of years, then moved back to South Africa, back to Scotland in 1993 and now lives in Canada, said: "I suppose if they'd said you can have second at the beginning of the tournament you'd take it.

"But I threw it away on 16 and 17. Not so much three–putting on 16 for par, but leaving that shot in the bunker on 17. I'm probably going to dream about that now."

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