SUNDERLAND golfer Martin McCririck showed nerves of steel to land the prestigious Durham County Championship.
The 22-year-old Heworth member defied difficult conditions to win a dramatic three-hole play-off against Brancepeth Castle’s Richard Aisbitt, after both men posted four-round totals of six-over-par 288 in the strokeplay event.
McCririck was the only golfer in a very strong field to card two rounds below par in the four-round epic, opening up with a brilliant 69 and having the sole 70 in Sunday’s testing second day.
Dad Shaun, who caddied throughout the event, said: “It’s unbelievable. It was one of the proudest days of my life.
“He did remarkably well, especially as there were an awful lot of very good golfers in the competition.
“I caddied for all four rounds – I’m still recovering – and the conditions were very difficult, but he had two under-par rounds – no one else managed that.”
McCririck and Durham County team colleague Aisbitt faced off in a three-hole play-off, over the first, second and 17th holes at Heworth – with rules stating that the title would be decided on a matchplay basis if the pair remained level after three.
Both parred the first, and there was real drama at the second. Aisbitt drove and chipped to eight feet to set up a birdie chance, but McCririck responded magnificently, almost making an eagle as his chip hit the flag and ran three feet past. Aisbitt sank his putt, but McCririck refused to be rattled and stroked home his putt to take the play-off to the 17th.
A ferocious wind made life difficult on an awkward hole and Aisbitt found the trees, giving McCririck a vital advantage. Aisbitt got to eight feet with his third shot, but McCririck was inside him and, after his opponent missed, the Wearsider pounced from five feet for the title.
McCririck senior added: “It was nerve-wracking for me, so it must have been incredible for Martin. But he’s proud to have won and will go to Woodhall Spa to represent Durham in the Champion of Champions in September. That’ll be a great experience for him – as long as he takes his caddy with him!”
McCririck – who works as a greenkeeper at South Shields Golf Club – became Heworth’s first winner in the County Championship’s 99-year history.
Wearside member David Vest was a creditable third, carding a tremendous 68 – the tournament’s joint lowest score – in the first round and hanging in all the way, only to finish a shot behind the winner. Former champion Dave Patterson (Seaham) was fourth, again after hitting an opening 68, with a 291 total.
Richard Walker was seventh for Wearside on 297, with Derek Goldsmith 17th after showing consistent form throughout the four rounds, with four 75s. Seaham’s Kevin Booth ended 21st on 303.
H Tonight, Houghton – overwhelmed in their first three matches – face a daunting home clash with South Moor in Division One of the Maxim Cleaning Services North Durham Union League.
Second-top Wearside, fine 10-4 winners at Heworth last week, welcome 100 per cent Division Two leaders Seaham to Coxgreen for a crucial showdown. Seaham are fresh from a 12-2 demolition of Brancepeth Castle, when Dave Patterson, Kevin Booth, Alan Williams, Gareth Williamson, Ian Rooney and Steve Maratty all triumphed.
Results, Div One: Chester-le-Street 14 Houghton 0, Consett 14 Whickham 0, Durham City 6 Heworth 8, South Moor 11 Crook 3; Div Two: Beamish 8 South Shields 6, Hobson 4 Wearside 10, Ramside 8 Ravensworth 6, Seaham 12 Brancepeth Castle 2; Div Three: Birtley 12 Garesfield 2, Boldon 6 Whitburn 8, Washington 10 Ryton 4
Tonight’s fixtures, Div One: Chester-le-Street v Durham City, Crook v Consett, Heworth v Whickham, Houghton v South Moor; Div Two: Brancepeth Castle v Ramside, Hobson v Beamish Park, South Shields v Ravensworth, Wearside v Seaham; Div Three: Garesfield v Boldon, Ryton v Birtley, Whitburn v Washington.