16- 19  March 2023 – Rich River Golf Club

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HAYES: Golf’s Chances And How They Bite

Chances.

Golf is one half about whether you can create chances; the other half is about whether or not you can take them.

There can be no question that David Micheluzzi and Kade McBride created more than their share of chances at Rich River in the past four days.

Their golf was equal parts blue collar and rhinestone, but any time you can reach 20 under in a championship of the magnitude of the Play Today New South Wales Open, you’ve excelled.

As the final day unfolded, the final ascent to that 20 under summit proved Everest-like, even for McBride who began at 19 under.

Micheluzzi didn’t exactly bolt from his base camp at 14 under either, but when he chipped in from beside the ninth green, he caught fire and played his final 10 holes in five under par, pulling level for the first time on the 71st hole, then closing with a regulation par.

It left McBride one final chance to respond.

The next 10 minutes shaped as a “sliding doors” special for both men.

Could Queenslander McBride, so many times a contender but without a big professional win to his name, finally break through after being so impressive for so long at Rich River?

Or would he falter, ceding a third title of a breakthrough season to the Victorian?

A wayward drive on the 17th didn’t prove costly for McBride, who was good enough to pitch it on and make a regulation par, effectively upping the ante on the last tee.

A birdie to win, a par for a playoff … you know the drill.

His drive trickled marginally left, meaning an attack on the green was impossible with overhanging branches blocking his path to a back-right pin tucked away behind a cavernous greenside bunker that would soon play a key role in his golfing life.

McBride pitched to a layup number that meant he had approximately 92m to the flag and approximately 86m to fly the bunker, from which it was downhill to the cup, meaning precision was paramount, with even a shot of perhaps 88m all but certain to scurry downhill and through to the back of the green.

The ball soared high into the Moama air and from side on, it was always going to be touch and go.

As it turned out, it landed at about 85.95m, literally 5cm from perfection.

The ball jumped backwards off the grassy bunker lip and fell to what would become a sandy grave; his attempt at a miracle fourth shot ultimately ending in his demise with a double-bogey.

“It just missed by a ‘smidge’,” said McBride, justifiably proud of an enormous tournament, arguably his best and most consistent as a professional.

“And in that bunker is as dead as dead gets.”

In the next breath, you could have excused the 28-year-old had he fallen apart, knowing just how close his chance at glory had been.

But to his eternal credit, he uttered words that bely the raw emotion of the moment.

“I’m all right with it. I was playing to win,” he said.

Chances missed; chances denied.

For his part, Micheluzzi was sprayed in celebratory water 50m off the green, even as the final acts of the drama unfolded.

He knew it was big, whether or not he realised he’d become the first player in 18 years to win three times in a single PGA Tour of Australasia season.

He knew it had clinched the Tour’s Order of Merit, but it all really hit home when he realised that he would soon make his major championship debut, punching his ticket to the 2023 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool.

Chances taken; chances presented.

You get the strong feeling that Micheluzzi, 26, has found that magical ingredient that makes him mentally comfortable in tricky situations; that he belongs at the game’s higher levels.

“It feels pretty awesome,” he said. “I hit it awesome, didn’t putt my best but gave myself enough chances, and I’m stoked to be here … and for what’s coming up.”

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