Barker birdie blitz delivers PNG Open title

[ Original Article – view on – read here ]

Starting the day one shot back of 54-hole leader Chris Wood, the third hole saw a two-shot swing for the South Australian to take control.

Wood, and third member of the final group Ryan Peake, found the hazard from the tee of the short par-4, while Barker drove pin high off the left edge of the green.

Wood’s third came up short of the green, before he managed to get up and down for a bogey five. Meanwhile, Barker went centimetres from holing his eagle chip, tapping in to reach 10-under and a one-shot lead.

The 24-year-old then proceed to scorch the front nine, making birdie at the fourth, before going birdie-birdie-birdie-eagle to close the front nine in seven-under par 30 with a six-shot lead.

As was the case at three, Barker had the chance to be even lower having driven the par-4 sixth to within a metre of the hole. His eagle putt, however, hit the lip as Wood took three chips to make the putting surface and eventually a double bogey.

Another eagle went begging for Barker at the par-5 eighth, with his 16-under-par at the turn a comfortable enough cushion to start thinking about taking home the trophy and the winner’s green jacket.

“Like I’ve been saying all week, been chasing that low one and it came on the front nine today,” Barker said.

“Was swinging it really well, driving it in the fairway makes all the difference, doing the rest of it as I should and turned in seven-under-par.

“That really shot me up the leaderboard and put me in good stead to sort of manage my way home.”

Having both finished the front nine strongly, Wood and Peake were hanging on as other players found Sunday birdies to throw their names into contention.

That chasing pack got more interested when the 24-year-old leader made bogeys at 10 and 12, but once again he bounced back to make the closing stretch a little less stressful with birdies at 14 and 15.

“The gap really opened up quite quickly and the locals got around me too, which was great,” said Barker, who recently regained his ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia status at Qualifying School.

“I had a lot of fun out there on the back nine, even with a few wayward shots.

“I was pretty comfortable, about as comfortable as you could be coming down the stretch.

“When I hit my tee shot on 13 I was settled. I was like, Yep, all good.”

Finding the water at the par-5 16th from the tee, Barker’s nearest pursuer, Peake, did the same, with the West Australian forced to hit away from the green with his third leading to a six. Barker, on the other hand, was able to get up-and-down for a bogey five to cheers and applause from the local crowd that had adopted him as one of their own.

“It feels great,” he said of the crowd support. “First time here, I’ve never met a person from Papua New Guinea and they really got around me.

“It was great, was a lot of fun.”

Another double bogey befell Peake at the penultimate hole to give Barker even more breathing room going to the 18th after a regulation par, Jack Murdoch in the clubhouse at 10-under his nearest threat.

A safe miss long right was followed by a brilliant chip from Barker.

Taking advantage of his five-shot buffer, Barker missed the short par try before tapping in for a bogey, 14-under-par total and his first win of any kind in six years.

“Sounds great doesn’t it,” Barker said of being described as a PGA Tour of Australasia winner. “Great way to start 2023/24 season for me.

“Golf is a game where often you don’t see the results you want to see. It can be tough to stay positive and find some belief.

“I always knew I could do it, but when it actually happens it is very good for the mental to actually confirm that, yes, you can do it.”

Barker will take $32,400 from Papua New Guinea with him to Thailand for two weeks of mixed events, while Murdoch took second alone at 10-under. Michael Wright, Blake Proverbs and Wood shared third a further shot back.