Bernd Ritthammer sealed a third victory of the year on a day of high drama at the European Challenge Tour’s season finale, the NBO Golf Classic Grand Final, at Al Mouj Golf.
The German’s triumph was not quite enough to overtake Jordan Smith as Road to Oman Rankings winner but few would begrudge the Englishman his prize after a season of outstanding consistency.
With birdies and bogeys dropping simultaneously out on course, and the most competitive season in memory, the projected make-up of the top 16 was in doubt until the final putt dropped, with France’s Joël Stalter ultimately taking the last European Tour spot at the expense of compatriot Adrien Saddier.
Ritthammer had looked in total control for much of the day, moving four shots clear on the front nine, but a faltering back nine gave Jens Dantorp – for whom only a victory would suffice for graduation – a chance to pull level.
Ultimately a bogey on the last derailed the Swede’s chances, and Ritthammer was able to secure one final win with a regulation par on the last and a 21 under par total, much to his delight and relief.
“I haven’t got used to it yet but it’s a pretty good feeling,” said the 29 year old. “I actually struggled quite a bit today, especially with my long game, but I lost a bit of confidence on the back nine.
“My putting saved me out there, I was able to scramble well and made some crucial putts, and I am just so happy to have got it done – it’s important, it gives me a slightly higher ranking than I would have had without the win, which might be crucial to get into some bigger events next season.
“The pressure definitely increased as the week went on. I expected it to be pretty tough today, but I started well, then a bogey on nine led to a few more mistakes, and I was feeling the pressure even more and grinding to get it done.
“I knew Jens needed to win because I played with him in the last two rounds, so when I saw him climbing the leaderboard I knew what was happening for him and I feel really sorry for him because he had a great week and he would have deserved to win and to graduate.
“We’ve been talking about the Rankings all week, and my group today of Ryan Fox and Matthieu Pavon and me all knew we were safe, and how good it is not to be on the bubble – we were all in a good position no matter what the outcome was here.
“I know it can be very intense on this final day because I had a similar thing in the Grand Final two years ago, so I know how those guys feel and I feel sorry for everyone who just missed out, but that only means they are really close and they will make it soon.
“I’m looking forward to getting some rest in the next few weeks, putting the clubs away for a while, and try to be fresh going down to Leopard Creek in December with this confidence I will definitely be taking with me.”
Dantorp’s bogey on 18 was the only blemish in a sensational seven under par 65, the low round of the day, while a similar fate befell Adrien Saddier, another on the bubble coming into the week in Muscat.
The Frenchman needed to finish in third outright to earn enough points for a top 16 spot but found a greenside bunker – as did Dantorp – and failed to get up-and-down, dropping into a share of third with compatriots Julien Guerrier and Pavon, to miss out by just 732 points.
Ultimately, the 16 who occupied the European Tour spots coming into the week finished in them, with a little bit of reordering, but that did not lessen the spectacle of another thrilling conclusion to a Challenge Tour season.