Stephen Mulliner won the GC Open Championship
Stephen Mulliner won the GC Open Championship for the fourth consecutive year, beating Reg Bamford 7-3, 7-5 in the final. One impressive aspect of his achievement was not dropping a single game in the Championship, winning all 18 he played. Having also won the European Championship and Ramsgate Open in the past month, Stephen has only lost two games (one to each of James Goodbun and Richard Thompson) in a total of 54 games.
Stephen missed almost nothing in the final. His worst shot almost certainly was when he had a relatively short (for the standard of the match) shot at Hoop 11 in the second game to win the match. The sweet thought of victory seemed to enter his mind just as he played the ball and he failed the hoop. Reg was then able skillfully to clear that ball and put his own into the jaws. But Stephen kept his nerve, lagging both of his balls to onside positions either side of the peg. Reg took a long time considering his options but in the end ran Hoop 11, knowing that, however good his shot, he was almost inevitably going to be a sitting target for Stephen. The latter was left with a 7.5-yard shot at Hoop 12, which he duly ran to win the match.
Reg had looked imperious in the block phase of the Championship; his opponents scoring an average of less than 2 hoops per game against him. He then had an incredible match against local player Tony Bower in the first round of the knockout, winning 7-6, 6-7, 7-0 (and, no, the last game was not Tony deciding to scratch from the tournament!). However, Reg then proceeded serenly through the rest of the knockout, giving no suggestion that Stephen would make such light work of the final.
Meanwhile, various other players made a good impression. Jeff Dawson put his calm approach to good use and was a worthy semi-finalist (winning all his matches to that point and only dropping four games). Ryan Cabble was the fourth semi-finalist and played the whole tournament with his usual vigour, looking as though his minor hicoughs along the way would be the price of getting into top form. However, he never really got going on the Sunday morning against Stephen. Without doubt, the main "find" of the tournament was Harry Dodge (still only 17), who was looking very promising last season and has made huge strides even since then. He made no more dent on Reg and Stephen than anyone else but otherwise had some excellent wins, beating Lionel Tibble for 5th place (the "SuperBowl"!). Harry hits the ball very cleanly and with great accuracy.
Cheryl Bromley travelled from the USA to compete and she showed some very useful potential that will mature further with more exposure to top-level competition on good courts. Rachel Rowe and Will Gee showed some signs of their top form but both fell short of where they would have wanted to be, neither having played much competitive croquet this season.
In terms of victories in the GC Open Championship, Stephen (6 wins) still sits behind Reg (7 wins) and the latter had a winning streak of five consecutive titles from 2005 to 2009. No doubt, Reg will retain his motivation to regain his supremacy in the 2014 Championship, not least to avoid Stephen catching up on both those records.
While plenty of talented English GC players were absent from the Championship and the GC Tournament Committee will continue to review this situation, the entry was impressively diverse: from the elite (Reg and Stephen) to the AC-oriented (Jeff and Lionel) to the young guns (Rachel, Will, Ryan and Harry) to the overseas entrants (Cheryl and William Bromley from the USA and Peter Freer and Stephen Thornton from Australia) to the regular faithfuls of the GC tournament circuit. Clearly the committee needs to identify how best to formulate a tournament that allows potential English winners of the GC World Championship to gain suitable experience. However, at the same time, each individual makes a voluntary choice as to whether or not to play; the influencing reasons ultimately could lie beyond the tournament format. The committee is keen to hear all suggestions for improvements.