ABU DHABI // Ben Taylor, in the first year of what he hopes will be a four-year golfing scholarship in Florida, took a significant step yesterday towards fulfilling his dream to turn professional by putting in an impressive display in winning the Abu Dhabi Junior Championship.
The three-day tournament, presented by The Daily Telegraph, which introduced the event 16 years ago, featured 11 of the best teenage players in the United Kingdom and UAE-based Daniel Hendry, who earned the right to compete against them by winning the recent local qualifier.
Hendry, 17, knew in advance that it would be tough for him to repeat his winning feat at the National Course - venue for next month's European Tour event - and so it proved as the Scottish youngster finished a whopping 26 strokes behind Taylor in ninth position.
Taylor, 18, who plays off a handicap of plus two at his club at Walton Heath in the south of England, had to withstand a much stronger challenge from Rhys Pugh, the captain of the Great Britain and Ireland Under 18 team before he was able to celebrate his success.
Pugh, who represents the Vale of Glamorgan club near to his Pontypridd home in South Wales, matched the eventual champion shot for shot on the outward nine of their concluding round of the three-round event and by the turn reduced his two-stroke overnight deficit to only one.
That was the signal for Taylor to hit his rival with a string of four birdies in a row to pull himself clear with what proved to be the decisive move of the championship.
Racing from an aggregate of nine under par on the 10th tee to 13 under when he rolled in a six-foot putt on the 13th green, Taylor stamped his authority on the tournament.
Despite another late rally by Pugh in the closing holes, Taylor came home with two shots to spare after carding a 69 for a 13-under-par aggregate of 203.
"Four straight birdies at that stage of what was always a tight match was a huge bonus and I'm so pleased to have finished it off," Taylor said.
"This win is right up there with what I have achieved so far," comparing it with his South of England Boys' Open triumph. "It has been fantastic week for all of us."
Pugh, 17, one of four boys in the field with a handicap of plus three, tried hard to concentrate on his own game and ignore what Taylor was doing but he admitted to being knocked out of his stride by his opponent's sequence of birdies.
"Eleven under for 54 holes is a great score on this course so I have to be happy with it," he said. "But it wasn't quite good enough."