by David Birtill
LANCASHIRE won their 12th English Men’s County Championship when they came through an intensely close final day at Wychwood Park, Cheshire.
They edged past Somerset on countback, winning the title by 1½ game points, after the two teams tied with two match wins apiece. Lancashire clinched it with a 5-4 win over Hampshire, while Somerset beat Lincolnshire 5½-3½.
“It’s superb,” said team captain Paul Williams, who also steered Lancashire to their last victory in 2013. “But it was tight!”
The Northerners were taken over the winning line by England international Sean Towndrow from Southport after an afternoon of excellent golf, nailbiting tension – and ever-changing calculations of the possible outcomes.
At the start of the day’s play any of the four finalists could have won the championship, but Lancashire and Somerset staked the strongest claims when they both won their morning foursomes.
Lancashire took two of the possible three points against Hampshire, while Somerset enjoyed a clean sweep over Lincolnshire. Both teams knew then that if they went on to win their overall match, the outcome would be decided on countback between them.
England international Paul Kinnear led Lancashire out in the singles and gave a sign of what was to come when he started with an eagle three on the first. He played 14 holes in four-under par, won by 5/4 – and completed his own perfect score of six wins from six matches. “My star man,” said Williams.
But further down the order, Hampshire took control of the last three games and Lancashire attention focussed on Ciaran Doherty and Towndrow to provide the essential points. Doherty got to three up on Martin Young, but was pulled back to just one up before surging ahead again to win 3/1.
Towndrow’s match was always close with just one hole in it for most of the round. He holed a good putt on 16 to get to dormie two up, but Hampshire’s Darren Walkley holed a 20ft birdie putt on 17 to take the match down 18. Towndrow played textbook stuff and was rewarded when his birdie was conceded for the win.
“I’ve got to congratulate all the team, they all pulled together” said Williams, whose mantra for the week was: “You have to believe and you will find a way.”
Meanwhile Somerset were making their bid for the title. After their successful morning they were thoroughly tested by Lincolnshire who came out on a mission in the singles. They set a storming pace from the start and were up in all six games over the opening holes.
Somerset captain Justin Lane commented: “Some of the golf Lincolnshire played was phenomenal. After nine holes I thought we were going to lose the match and for the guys to stop that and pull out the win was fantastic.”
Matt Turner summed up Somerset’s determination when he won the top singles against England international Ashton Turner – with an eagle three on the last.
Josh Hilleard, who was also down for much of the round, provided another point with a 2/1 win and Will Poole secured a half.
In the end although they won the match, the title was denied them. Lane said: “It was a win, but not quite enough. It’s always disappointing not to win but we are happy that we held our heads high. We are a county with only 29 clubs, so we are the smallest county here, and I am really, really pleased, the guys played so well. It’s been a great weekend.”
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