Accrington Observer Shield 2005
PAUL Billington must have thought his luck was in when a black cat crossed his path - but he would have also needed a four leaf clover and a lucky horseshoe to see off in-form Jason Ashworth in the final of the Observer Shield.
The cat ran across the green on the 12th hole, stopping Accrington golfer Paul's ball from running off the green much to the bemusement of the watching 40-strong crowd.
But, unfortunately for Paul, team-mate Jason was in putting mood and it was the 20-year-old who picked up the coveted crown at Rossendale Golf Club in the 52nd running of the competition.
Jason claimed the Shield on the 16th hole, winning 4&2 - a stunning achievement out of the 220 who started out in the competition.
"It was a great feeling to win," said Jason, who was grateful to caddy Alex Law for helping him throughout the competition.
"There were a few nerves beforehand but they were soon settled when I got three birdies in the first four holes.
"Paul had said to me on the first tee 'Let's entertain the crowd' and I think we did that.
"I thought it would be hard to catch him as I was giving him eight shots. And when the cat stopped his ball everyone was laughing - except me!
"But I just tried to stay as relaxed as possible. I used to get angry but now I just wait and see what happens.
"It was a great day, the weather was nice and I played well.
"I won the club championship this year and now the Observer Golf Shield so I hope to defend them both next year."
Paul was gracious in defeat: "Jason is a superb player and a great ambassador for Accrington Golf Club.
"I have come through seven rounds and it was an honour for me to get to the final. I played well and birdied two - but he birdied the same holes which shows what a good player he is.
"I only had three bad shots - on the eighth when I went into some trees; on the 12th when I went into a bush and then on the 16th when I was behind a mound.
"I said Jason needed about six birdies to beat me - he got five so I can't complain. I was happy with my performance."
Jason was the favourite, playing off one, but it did seem a tough task as he played catch-up to Paul, whose handicap is 12.
But with two birdies in the first two holes - and two superb chips in from the edge of the green - it showed what Paul was up against as Jason charged into a two shot lead.
"He was like Sergio Garcia on the second hole, he curled it round a tree and then chipped it in," said Paul. "I knew I was in for a tricky round then and I am just glad I hung onto his shirt tails and gave him a game."
The third hole went to Paul - as he was using one of his eight shots - and both celebrated a birdie on the par-five fourth in what was a thrilling opening four holes on the picturesque course.
Paul, who had caddy John Boyle advising him, then birdied again on the par three fifth - where he had another extra shot - to make it all-square.
But, despite hitting the ball into the rough on the seventh and having one of his three penalty shots to make it a testing task for referee Alex Bennett, Jason got out of trouble. He finished with a brilliant putt from the side of the green to go back in front.
By the eighth hole, Jason had restored his two shot lead and Paul was then cursing his luck when his young neighbour kicked his ball about two feet into the rough near the 10th hole - but he still managed to win the hole courtesy of another extra shot.
"She didn't know so there is no point getting mad," said Paul.
The game still hung in the balance with both players competing at a high standard.
Jason, an assistant greenkeeper at Accrington GC, then had a bit of luck at the par four 11th as his second shot hit the tree and bounced quite nicely for him although Paul made a great putt to halve the hole and keep Jason two-up.
But Paul didn't have such luck following a nightmare tee shot on the 12th as he hit the tree and his ball then dropped into a bush, for another drop shot.
He then, though, had a spot of luck as the black cat ran across the course to make up for his neighbour's earlier misdemeanour.
"I just saw it run out," said Paul. "The ball was heading to the back of the green as I had over hit it and the cat stopped it. It definitely wasn't my cat though!"
The hole was once again halved but Jason took control at the par three 13th as he went three up and then four-up at the 14th with another stunning shot.
It meant Paul had to win the 15th and the luck then evened itself out after Jason found the pond - and had to have a penalty shot with Paul finishing well to hang in there.
It looked liked the nerves had finally taken hold as Jason smashed his next tee shot into a marsh on the 16th but he recovered superbly - to win the applause of the ever-growing crowd and the Shield.
"The Accrington GC supporters have been there from the last 16 and have been great and I would also like to thank my dad, Victor, who has been watching me every round," said Jason, who had final experience from being the caddy two years ago for Aaron Duxbury.
Paul, whose wife turned out for the first time to watch him along with friends and Accrington GC members, said: "Jason is a tremendous golfer and he was relentless in hitting the green and I can't argue with his win. But I had earned the right to be there and I thoroughly enjoyed the day.
"I have entered the competition for the last 10 years and just love it. You get to play on different courses and meet different golfers. I will be back next year."