KARACHI: It was a stroll in the end for Matloob Ahmed.
With no one running him close, the defending champion kept the Rashid D. Habib Memorial Golf Championship crown with a splendid fourth-round show here at the Karachi Golf Course on Sunday.
Having started the day four shots clear, Matloob left nothing to chance as he clinched the title by a six-stroke margin after firing seven birdies in a final-round 68 for an overall 12-under 276.
His closest rivals Shabbir Iqbal (70) and Mohammad Munir (72) just couldn’t keep up with him. With his four-shot lead intact after the front nine, and his rivals anxiously looking to close in on him, it all played perfectly into Matloob’s hands.
“The key was keeping the lead at the end of the front nine,” Matloob told Dawn. “That meant I could take it easy as the rest tried to keep up the chase.”
Matloob made a signal of his intent from the first hole. A birdie there for him meant he seized the early initiative. Shabbir and Munir had started the day in joint-second but the latter had to play catch-up after a bogey on the first.
Shabbir reduced Matloob’s lead back to four shots with a birdie on the fourth and they both birdied the fifth hole.
The only time Matloob seemed he would give his opponents a chance was when he bogeyed the sixth, when his tee shot landed close to a tree. But he bounced back immediately with a birdie on the next hole.
There was another bogey for Matloob on the eighth but what favoured him was that Shabbir couldn’t take advantage and matched him with a bogey.
It was a similar story on the ninth where both of them hit birdies but it was at that hole where the wheels came off Munir’s challenge. A bogey for him meant he was now seven shots adrift despite his birdie on the seventh.
Shabbir matched Matloob with a birdie on the 10th hole while Munir could only manage a par. Matloob’s lead at the top swelled to five shots with a birdie on the 12th and he sealed victory with a birdie on the par-5 14th, where Shabbir’s challenge came unstuck with a bogey.
With the title in sight, Matloob could afford to bogey the 15th. There was another bogey for him on the final hole but having hit a birdie on the 17th, there was no chance for last-gasp drama or intrigue.
Shabbir, who was the only golfer before Matloob to complete a successful title defence at the tournament, finished second with a 282, two shots ahead of Munir.
Mohammad Alam’s 71 saw him clinch fourth spot, a shot adrift of Munir and two ahead of fifth-placed Mohammad Ashfaq (71). Hamza Amin was sixth with 288 after firing a final-round 70.
A disappointing tournament came to an end for 2016 champion Waheed Baloch and young golf sensation Ahmed Baig with both finishing a massive 20 shots adrift of the top after firing 72 and 76 respectively.
Elsewhere, Iftikhar Hussain clinched the senior professionals’ title with a two-round total of two-over 146 to finish three shots ahead of Tahir Nasim.
Mohammad Saqib claimed the young professionals’ crown with a three-over 147, ending four strokes ahead of runner-up Akash Bashir, while Mohammad Abid and Saleem Inayat won the KGC Professionals’ and Senior Professionals’ titles respectively.
Published in Dawn, January 13th, 2020