TONY WALLER made it fourth time lucky when he finally captured one of the North East's leading golf titles after three near-misses. Tony, from the City of Newcastle Golf Club, had lost out in three previous regional finals of the national Bill Goff/Golf North East Sunshine Challenge.
But he finally claimed the top prize after a day of super competition on a beautiful Autumn day at Ramside Hall Hotel and Golf Club.
The day began with the semi-finals and in the first match, Tony faced his City of Newcastle clubmate Steve Slater, both playing off a handicap of three.
Both played some super golf, peppering the flag with their approach shots, but the difference was in the putting with Tony's putter being very hot and Steve's just letting him down with a number of shots lipping out.
Steve pulled one back to go three down with four to play and he was determined to fight and keep the pressure on. However, he was completely floored when Tony, using a 7 iron at the 172-yard 15th , produced a magnificent hole-in-one to seal victory.
The second match between Craig Wren, a four-handicapper from Barnard Castle, and Bishop Auckland's 13-handicapper Daniel Hinge was a very tight affair with Craig managing to get in front early and maintaining his lead throughout.
Daniel, who only took up the game three years ago, belied his inexperience by never letting Craig get too far ahead with some very steady play - but as he said afterwards, was beaten 3&2 by a "very good player who deserved the victory".
The final was contested by two excellent, evenly-matched players who produced some super golf.
As a result of some very solid approach play and good putting, Tony was able to go three up by the turn and at the 10th another solid par gave him a four hole advantage, which he maintained until the 12th.
So, at four up with six to play, Tony looked to have amassed an unasailable lead and was looking to take the championship at last.
However, Craig had other ideas and a burst of three birdies in four holes helped him to draw level as the two players reached the 17th tee.
Would this be another loss for Tony?
Tony fought back brilliantly though and held his nerve to secure a solid par 5 at the difficult 17th to go one up as the duo teed off at the 18th.
Craig, however, was not finished and a magnificent drive followed by a short iron to three feet won him the hole and take the contest into extra holes.
At the first extra hole, the 446-yard 1st, Tony hit a great second shot to 10 feet only for Craig to better it with a shot to six feet.
Tony's put just lipped out and he could only watch as Craig's putt headed for the hole only to agonisingly slip an inch by.
Tony breathed again and the match headed up the 477-yard par 5 2nd. Somehow, Tony's nerves held and after a great drive and second shot to 25 feet, he stood over his putt knowing he had 2 shots for the match. He did not fail and Craig conceded.
And so Tony was duly crowned Golf North East/ Bill Goff Matchplay Champion 2008.
Tony wins a place on the Algarve Invitational week in early November courtesy of Bill Goff Holidays to play against 10 other regional champions in the national final.
Event organiser David Wakenshaw said: "What a brilliant match and congratulations and commiserations to Craig for coming back so well and showing his class.
:Congratulations also go to Tony for a superb hole-in-one in the semis and then a determined display in the final to earn the title - after his three runners-up slots! We are sure he will represent the North East very well in the final in Portugal.
"All the players commented on the excellent way that the Ramside Hall course was presented. It was a pleasure to play, encouraging good golf and congratulations should go to all the staff concerned given the very difficult weather conditions during this season."