KARACHI: The title was Waheed Baloch’s to lose. He almost did, only to win it in an enthralling climax on a day where competition was fierce and twists and turns were aplenty.
Holding a five-shot leading heading into the final round of the Rashid D. Habib Memorial National Professional Golf Tournament on Sunday, Waheed was odds-on, going by his performance in three previous rounds, to clinch his first title in Karachi since winning the same tournament in 2016.
That, despite defending champion and Pakistan number one Shabbir Iqbal lurking right behind him.
A final-round charge by Shabbir, who’s made a career out of winning tournaments while coming from behind, was expected. Waheed wilting in the face of pressure, though, wasn’t — especially after he’d held on to the lead from the start and slowly increased it round after round.
But that’s exactly what transpired on a spellbinding day at the Karachi Golf Course, providing a grandstand finish to the first Open tournament of the year with Waheed (75) prevailing in a two-round playoff to deny Shabbir (70) a fifth tournament crown after they had finished level on 10-under 278.
“It’s a great feeling,” Waheed told Dawn after the prize distribution ceremony of the tournament organised by his former sponsor Bank Al Habib. “I just kept my nerves under pressure,” added Waheed, who is now sponsored by Engro. “There were moments when I felt it was gone, only for things to fall back in my favour.”
Waheed and Shabbir finished three shots ahead of third-placed Mohammad Munir (68) while Hamza Amin (74), who came into the final round tied with Shabbir at five strokes back, finished fourth on 282 as his wait for a first ever triumph in Karachi goes on.
Mohammad Ashfaq (71) and Ansar Mehmood (74) were tied for fifth at 284, one shot ahead of Ahmed Baig (71). Mohammad Alam (72) and Talib Hussain (74) finished a further stroke adrift while Talib Hussain (74) rounded off the top 10 at 287. It was the top two, though, who provided the drama.
True to his form over the last three days, Waheed opened with a birdie. But then he fell apart, bogeying the next two holes as well as the eighth.
By the end of the front nine, his lead had been whittled down to one by Shabbir, who’d sunk birdies on the second and third.
It took Shabbir until the 13th to draw level with a birdie and three holes later, he went in front with another birdie. The title was then Shabbir’s to lose and he did when he bogeyed the final hole, allowing Waheed to draw level and then clinch it on the second playoff hole with a par.
Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2022