July 29, 2022
Nicholas Poppleton was crowned champion for the first time on the PGA EuroPro Tour; English increased to 10e in the Order of Merit.
Ranking x Order of Merit
The new front
The final round of The QHotels Collection Championship produced drama from the moment the leaders left the first tee.
Benjamin Jones took a two-shot advantage in Friday’s final, but he quickly saw that lead halved when Nicholas Poppleton birdied the first hole.
Poppleton then landed three straight birdies to start his round in explosive fashion, but Jones responded with three back-to-back birdies.
That would be the theme of the front nine for these two warriors, as they went head-to-head.
While the leading trio was 7e putting surface, loud shouting and clapping could be heard from the green in front – the par-3 8e.
Bailey Gill recorded his first hole-in-one of the season after a sublime shot, with the subsequent appreciation echoing in the immediate area.
At this point, Gill was still four shots behind leader Jones – showing just how impressive the leading pair were in the early stages of the round.
The eventual champion pulled off a magnificent bunker shot on the 9e hole that left a good chance for par, but he failed to find the cup – resulting in a bittersweet way to wrap up his front nine.
Far from this minor flaw, the Englishman showed his scintillating ability from the first tee.
Jones, on the other hand, raced through the front nine and made the turn at 32 (-4) to restore their two-stroke lead overnight as the last group headed for the 10e tee.
The new back
They say a golf tournament doesn’t really start until the last group has had their turn, and that’s usually true, but it also depends on what alternate nine awaits them.
The hunting course at Slaley Hall is a work of beauty; it features a meticulous design that requires careful thought and precise execution.
While the front frequently and generously offers birdie opportunities, the back nine is determined to recover them quickly and often aggressively.
Poppleton birdied the 10the hole to recover the shot he lost on 9ewhile Jones could only through the same hole.
That two-shot lead has been cut in half again, but the real drama won’t happen until the 14th hole.
Jones was in trouble off the tee, finding the fairway bunker as Poppleton located the fairway to leave 158 yards in the pin.
Playing slightly uphill and into the wind, the 28-year-old opted for a flying 7-iron that took a jump and slammed into the cup.
Jones, who led by one on 14e tee, dropped his first shot of the day at the absolute worst time and his narrow advantage quickly turned into a two-shot deficit.
This hole would trigger an unwanted streak of three straight bogeys as the confident golfer of just an hour before began to look vulnerable around the greens.
It was far from over though, as Poppleton made a double bogey at 16e to generate more interest in an already thrilling afternoon.
Obviously – and understandably – upset with his performance on the 16thea thud sounded as the flag left his hands and crashed to the ground.
Poppleton recovered quickly and parried on the 17th.e hole, but Gill – who featured in the penultimate group of the day – was only one back as he stood on 18e tee.
Unbeknownst to the leader, his nearest competitor would bug the last hole and he would have a two-shot lead as he watched the traitorous 18e hole.
The last hole of the chase course is an absolute monster; a small gully that bisects the fairway forces players to leave the big stick where it belongs – tightly packed in their bag.
Poppleton hit a great tee shot and saw his approach land short of the green, so he would leave himself about 6 feet for par.
Jones fashioned an implausible approach around an overhanging tree and had about 10 feet for a birdie.
If that attempt had failed, he would have forced the playoffs, but a three-putt allowed Gill to take second place and Poppleton to be crowned champion for the very first time on this tour.
The turn of the afternoon was the par-4 14ewhere Poppleton’s eagle and Jones’ bogey resulted in a sudden three-hit swing.
“I was 158 yards out and hit a 7-iron fly, but I didn’t know he was in!” a delighted Poppleton revealed.
“I thought I was 15 feet away, so I was shocked when I realized it went in.”
Looking back on his victorious afternoon, the champ had nothing but positive things to say about the player who produced such a valiant fight throughout the day.
“I asked Ben a lot of questions early in the round making a lot of birdies, and to be fair to him he always answered,” he noted.
“A testament to Ben’s game and long may he continue his results have been excellent this year. It’s a shame he hasn’t won yet but I’m sure he will find one in the process of road.
When asked if this victory changed his seasonal plan, he was quick to admit that it could.
“I had an invite to the Challenge Tour, but I might stay on EuroPro because I’m higher up the Order of Merit now – if I can go out and win, that will solve all my problems.”
Thanks to Slaley Hall and The QHotels Collection for a wonderful and very successful week; the hunting course has received nothing but the highest praise from our fine batch of talent.
The next stop on the PGA EuroPro Tour is a trip to Mannings Heath Wine & Golf Estate, where a new champion will be crowned.
See you in Sussex for the 10e event of the season. Have a nice weekend and get started on a golf course!
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