HORSHAM croquet player Ken Bald made a winning return to the sport by claiming the South Terrace Croquet Club Challenge Cup in South Australia on Sunday.
Bald, who was named the Wimmera Sports Star of the Year in February, has not played since May, spending three months holidaying in Port Hedland, Western Australia.
The Kalimna Park Croquet Club member who is coming off a career-best season picked up where he left off, winning seven of eight matches in the two-day tournament at the weekend, to collect the Challenge Cup.
It was the first time he had competed in the invitation-only competition.
Bald admitted he exceeded his own expectations.
"I entered because I needed the practice ahead of the President's Eight a tournament coming up in Melbourne," he said.
"I was very surprised how I went, considering the lack of practice.
"I thought I'd finish in the middle of the field not win it."
His victory ensures he will be an automatic entry in the eight-man field next year.
Bald, who is currently ranked 64th in the world and 17th nationally, said the tournament win was ideal preparation for the President's Eight an event for Australia's leading players.
He has been allocated to compete in the second eights, competing against seven players for the Tom Howat Cup in Cairnlea between October 5 and 8.
"We play a double round-robin over four days, so it is a big few days of competition," Bald said.
"I'm hoping to do alright. I should hold my own."
Bald is still unsure if he will compete in the Australian Championships in Brisbane in November.
"I'll wait and see how well I'm playing," he said.