BOWLS: Roll on the new year

First published in Sport

BRIAN Lees was a shock winner of the third annual Westlecot Indoor Open Singles Tournament last weekend at the Old Town club.

The Welford-on-Avon (Warwickshire) player beat another surprise package, Mark Sykes (Banbury), 2-0 (7-2, 10-2) in a one-sided final to scoop the £1,000 winner’s cheque.

Sykes did have the consolation of collecting the runner-up prize of £400 for his sterling performances during the Dexion-sponsored tournament.

The Westlecot Open, now part of the 13-tournament planetbowls.com singles circuit, was full of surprises with none of last year’s quarter-finalists or fancied players getting past the third round (last 16) this time.

Defending champion and world number seven Mark Royal fell in the second round while ex-England international and inaugural 2011 winner Danny Denison made a swift exit in round one.

Other early losers included former world singles quarter-finalist Steve Knight and James Shillingford, last season’s losing finalist, (both in the first round), England internationals Ian Honnor (second), Paul Coleman (second), Gordon Charlton (third), Shaun Jones (third) and Welsh international Phil Carpenter (third).

Winner Lees, who had bowled superbly in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, was in awesome form in the final. He quickly adapted to the difficult rink four green and raced into a 7-0 lead after five ends and took the set on the next 7-2. And the second set only lasted six ends as well.

Lees opened with a count of four and a single with Sykes scoring a two on the third end, but this was to be his last taste of success as Lees took the next three with one, two and two to take the set 10-2 and seal victory.

En route to the final, Lees beat former world singles quarter-finalist Steve Knight 1.5-0.5 (6-6, 5-3) and was pushed hard in the second round before edging home against Nick Holliday (Cotswold) 2-1 (9-7, 5-8, 2-1).

Lees needed another tie-breaker to overcome Gloucester’s Vince Wilks 2-1 (5-7, 5-3, 2-0) but in the quarter-finals he comfortably beat Tom Warner (Five Rivers, Salisbury) 2-0 (6-3, 8-1), and in the semis defeated former Highworth and Westlecot player Neil Hope, now representing Leicester, 2-0 (7-5, 7-2) to book a spot in the final.

Losing finalist Sykes battled hard and collected some fine scalps on his way to the last two but then ran out of gas.

He opened with a very comfortable 2-0 (9-1, 11-0) success over ex-England junior international Chris Young but then needed three tie-breakers in order to reach the semi-finals.

Sykes came from behind and losing the first set in round two to oust the defending champion Mark Royal 2-1 (4-7, 10-1, 2-1).

An even closer match then saw him just edge out World Ladies Matchplay runner-up Debbie Stavrou (Desborough, Maidenhead) 2-1 (5-5, 4-4, 2-0), after the two sets were both tied.

Then he overcame another Desborough player, England junior international, teenager BJ Byles 2-1 (7-5, 6-8, 2-1) gaining shot in the decisive third tie-breaker end with his fourth and last wood.

In the semis Sykes beat Andy Moore (Christie Miller, Melksham), the 2011 losing finalist, 2-0 (8-5, 10-3) but then found Lees far too hot to handle in the final.

Moore had the consolation of collecting £200 as a beaten semi-finalist and was the top Wiltshire player in reaching the last four.

Westlecot’s Neil Smith at four, the lowest ranked player in the planetbowls.com rankings after the first two tournaments at Lincoln and Tye Valley (Harlow), carried a £50 bounty on his head.

He lost in round two to Gordon Charlton (Folkestone) who pocketed the £50 but then promptly went out in the next round to Neil Hope 1.5-0.5. and drops to seven in the rankings.

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