Toby Tree lived up to his name and found himself exactly where he didn’t want to be – in the woods at Pretoria Country Club’s par-four 18th hole Saturday after pushing his drive out to the right in round three of the Tshwane Open.
That cost him a double-bogey six – the hole has been changed from a par-five for the members to a par-four for the professionals – and put a dampener on what had up until then been a remarkable round.
The 21-year-old former England amateur international, a frequent visitor to South Africa to play golf ever since the age of 14, had started the day par-bogey, but then played the nine-hole stretch from four to 12 in just 29 strokes, seven-under-par. Highlights of that hot stretch of golf were eagle-threes at both the par-five ninth and par-five 12th.
“At the ninth I banged a big drive down the middle and then hit a beauty of an eight iron to three feet. But it was a pretty tough crowd because I don’t think I even got a clap,” he said with a wry smile.
At the 12th he hit a little pitch into the cup for his three and second eagle inside four holes before picking up another shot with a birdie three at the 15th. At that stage he was seven under par for the round and when he hit his approach to eight feet at the 17th he needed that putt to go eight under for the day and a sizzling 62 was on the cards at this par-70 layout.
“But I missed the putt and then doubled the 18th to make 65 (which puts him at four under par 206 for the tournament). If you’d told me at the beginning of the round that I’d shoot 65 I would have taken it. But now that I have shot 65, I’m disappointed with it because of that poor finish,” added Tree who had to pre-qualify for this European Tour event
As a junior and an amateur, Tree was considered to be England’s next big future star. He was England under-14, under-15, under-16 and under-18 champion and won the Welsh Open Amateur Stroke Play before turning professional.
Tree and South Africa’s Haydn Porteous have developed a strong friendship and rivalry ever since they first played against each other as 14-year-olds. The pair clashed at international level for their respective countries and the Englishman has visited South Africa every year since his late teens – winning the Gauteng North Open back to back and finishing second in the SA Amateur.
“Hayds and I go back a long way and invariably when I’m out here I stay with him,” he says.
Their career paths as juniors and amateurs have been almost the same, extending to 2015 on the Challenge as young pros. However, Porteous’s win in the Joburg Open changed that as he is now fully exempt on the European Tour.
Tree would like nothing better than to put that right in tomorrow’s final round at Pretoria Country Club with a maiden victory which would also elevate him from the Challenge Tour to the European Tour. He’ll have to play some, though, and makes sure he keeps out of the woods.