Rising star Anthony Quayle put in the shift of his life on Sunday but it wasn’t enough to knock off 2018 Fiji International presented by Fiji Airways champion Gaganjeet Bhullar.
The 23-year-old Australian set a new course record in the final round in far from easy conditions, eventually signing for a blistering 9-under 63 at Natadola Bay Championship Golf Course to hit the clubhouse at 13-under for the week.
If not for a chip-in eagle by the eventual champion on the 17th – matching the feat of Quayle on the same hole just moments earlier – the Queenslander may have had his name etched onto the honour board in the clubhouse twice.
But agonisingly he came up one stroke short, Quayle putting on a show for playing partner – and four-time major champion – Ernie Els.
“I struggled to kind of comprehend I was playing with Ernie,” an upbeat Quayle told the media after signing his card.
“I’m at a loss for words at the moment, it hasn’t sunk in. It was a great round and it was cool to do it in front of him. He had a few nice words for me in the scorer’s tent.”
“He said ‘That was some back nine, really impressive. If you keep at it, you’ll do well’.
“It was pretty cool.”
The South African – who launched an assault at the title of his own with a final round 7-under 65 – wasn’t short on compliments for Quayle after leaving the scorer’s hut.
The Internationals’ Presidents Cup captain clawed his way to a share of third on the standings, securing his first top 10 finish anywhere in the world since June, 2016.
But Els was eager to reflect on the performance of his Sunday playing partner Quayle.
“I did almost as much as I could. I set out to try to shoot 65, which I did, and Anthony just played unbelievable,” said Els.
“Jeez, what is it, 29 on the back nine? That’s unbelievable stuff. Great golf and well deserved.
“He’s got a great game, great attitude. He’s got the whole package. He hits it long, he’s got great touch, and under the gun he really brought his stuff.
“He was off the fairways a lot, but he kept hanging in there. And to shoot 29 on the back nine is incredible.”
Quayle came from the clouds on Sunday morning, dropping back to 4-under for the tournament – his overnight score – after a bogey at the 4th.
But from that point on the Queenslander was untouchable, rattling off back-to-back birdies on 5 and 6 to stay within striking distance of leaders Bhullar, Kiwi Ben Campbell and fellow young Queenslander Jake McLeod.
A birdie at 11 was followed by an eagle at the par-4 12th – Quayle driving the green into a stiff wind – before he joined Bhullar on top of the pile with back-to-back birdies at 13 and 14.
With Bhullar watching on from the group behind, Quayle reached the vulnerable par-5 17th in two, before holing his eagle putt to climb to 13-under and snatch the outright lead.
But the Japan Tour player couldn’t build on that buffer, a two-putt par at the last not enough to stop the Indian’s charge to his ninth Asian Tour title.
“That was pretty awesome out there,” said Quayle.
“I got to play with Ernie and played a pretty awesome back nine.
“I’m pretty happy with it, regardless of the finish.”