Ahlers, McGuigan cruise into Match Play final
Jaco Ahlers cruised past PH McIntyre 5&3 on Saturday to win the second semifinal of the R2-million ISPS Handa South African Match Play Championship at Zwartkop Country Club.
His impressive performance set up a mouth-watering final with Doug McGuigan, who was equally impressive in his semifinal defeat of Merrick Bremner 5&3.
“I’m surprised myself,” an elated Ahlers said. “I played really well this afternoon – really, really well. I’ve just been hitting it better and better every day. I got some distances right this afternoon, and everything just worked out. I putted nicely; I hit that ball so well off the tee, it’s not even funny.”
He didn’t get the fast start he got in his quarterfinal in the morning when he made three birdies – he lost the first to McIntyre after his drive found a fairway trap – but after a string of five consecutive halves, he turned the screw with six wins in nine holes to wrap up the match by the 15th.
“After the loss of the first hole, I was hitting it well, I was putting well,” he said, “so I knew it was going to come, and in this game, you’ve got to wait for it. You can’t push it or it’s not going to happen.”
He won two in a row on seven and eight, and when he and McIntyre landed inches apart on the ninth, he took a read from McIntyre’s putt and they both got it wrong for the half.
But Ahlers was ruthless over the next three holes, stretching the lead to 4-up before delivering the coup-de-grace on 15 with a 10-foot birdie putt after McIntyre had missed his own 10-footer from the other side of the pin.
While McGuigan was as dominant as he was, Ahlers is not intimidated at the prospect of facing him in the final. “It’s exciting,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough battle, because Dougie’s probably one of the most solid players you could wish to find on the Sunshine Tour.”
Through the words of respect, it was apparent that Ahlers is confident in what he will bring to the final. “If I play like I did today, it’s going to be a very good battle. I’m just going to keep on playing like I’m playing,” he said. “I’ll hit my shots where I want to and I don’t really think about what the other guy’s doing.”
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In the first semifinal, McGuigan started winning from the first and didn’t stop until he claimed a 5&3 victory over Bremner.
“I hit one bad drive today at 10, but other than that I hit the ball very well,” said McGuigan. “I’ve played really nice, solid golf, although we haven’t had an avalanche of birdies, because there are a lot of little slopes on these greens.”
On Saturday the 42-year-old showed why he’s won four times on the Sunshine Tour, first by taking out top-seeded Darren Fichardt to make it to the semis, and then by beating Bremner to make the final.
“To take Darren and Merrick out in one day is a good achievement for anybody, so I’m really happy with that,” he said.
The Ebotse Golf and Country Estate professional dominated from the get-go, winning the first, fourth, sixth, seventh and ninth to turn 5-up.
“I was five-under for the front nine. It’s always nice to get off to a good start, because if the other guy is under pressure it just keeps mounting on him,” he said.
Bremner is no slouch, and began his comeback with wins at the 10th and 11th. McGuigan, however, had other plans and hit a superb shot over the trees at 14 to land eight feet from the pin on his way to a par. A three-putt bogey by the opposition meant he moved to 4-up.
“I turned 5-up and then lost 10 and 11,” said McGuigan. “I lost those two twice today, but on 12 I knocked in a nice four-footer and that just stopped that momentum, so I was comfortable after that.”
The 2011 Zambia Open champion didn’t rest on his lead and pitched his approach at 15 to within a metre of the flag. Bremner flew the green, and after his chip ran 15 feet past the flag he conceded the match.
McGuigan and Ahlers will be competing for the R300 000 winner’s cheque on Sunday.
“Jaco has been playing well, so obviously he’s on form as well. He’s beaten some good players, so we’ll go out and see who the ball rolls for,” McGuigan said.