x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Stig and Carly play it again

Twenty-one of the best young golfers in the United Kingdom concluded a three-day battle for supremacy around the testing National course in Abu Dhabi.

Stiggy Hodgson celebrates his winning putt.
Stiggy Hodgson celebrates his winning putt.

ABU DHABI // Twenty-one of the best young golfers in the United Kingdom concluded a three-day battle for supremacy around the testing National course in Abu Dhabi where many of the world's top professionals will be in action in January.

At stake was the prestigious Daily Telegraph Junior Championship which attracted an original entry of 41,830 - a line-up which is understood to be second only to a marathon event in China, in terms of numbers who take part in an individual sporting event. Considering the enormous level of competition, it was remarkable that the two trophies stayed in the same hands as last year; Stiggy Hodgson retained the boys' title and Carly Booth showed precocious superiority over her female rivals again.

Both champions are considered to be outstanding prospects for future stardom. Hodgson, 18, is tipped to for selection in next year's Walker Cup match against the United States, while Booth, still only 16, is the youngest player to have taken part in the equivalent Curtis Cup trans-atlantic contest. While the Scottish starlet Booth, with a total of 208, romped to a six-stroke victory over the 54 holes in a similar manner to the way she had dominated the field at Dubai Creek 12 months ago, the boys' tournament turned into an epic struggle between two of the young giants of the junior game.

Hodgson, who had already captured the Carris, McEvoy and Duke of York boys' events this year, finished all square after three rounds with Tommy Fleetwood, also 18, who is the captain of the England Boys' team. The pair had finished 12 shots ahead of the rest of the field posting aggregate 12-under-par totals of 204 to tame the 7,500-yard course and bring about a nerve-jangling sudden-death play-off which Hodgson won with a 15ft birdie putt on the second extra hole.

Hodgson became only the second player in the 50-year history of the tournament to successfully defend the title - Denny Lucas was the first 18 years ago. Hodgson hugged his close friend Fleetwood after what he described as a draining experience mentally. "We were at each other all day long," said Hodgson, whose ambition is to turn professional after the Walker Cup. "I have never wanted to win a tournament so badly as this week."

Hodgson was full of praise for his rival Fleetwood after receiving the trophy. "He has done so much in golf and will go on to do more for sure. To beat him in a play-off is extra special - one against one, no hiding. "He's certainly the best junior I have played against - very impressive under pressure. He's a lot of fun to play against and I enjoy his company a lot. We're good mates." Fleetwood, who earlier this year suffered similar heartache by losing the final of the Amateur Championship, responded in similar vein. "Stig's brilliant," he said.

"I had a two-shot lead after 11 and he just seemed to hole putts for fun. You just can't shake him off. He played a lot better than me today." Incidentally, Hodgson's unusual forename of Stiggy is based on the Roal Dahl character "Stig of the Dump" because the youngster found a set of golf clubs on a rubbish tip and started playing the game with them. Those discarded clubs have probably set him on the road to fame and fortune.