Liam Johnston fought off a packed leaderboard and emerged victorious at one of the European Challenge Tour’s most lucrative events, the Kazakhstan Open presented by ERG.
The Scot began the final round one shot back of leader Sean Crocker and bogeyed his opening hole to fall further behind. But in keeping with the pattern that had emerged throughout the tournament, he maintained his composure and was able to respond immediately.
“All week there were several times where I made bogey and then I bounced back with a birdie or two birdies, and this was just one of those weeks,” he said. “When it’s your week these things happen, but that birdie on the second hole got me settled into the round, especially with the par five coming up, it just confirmed to me that ‘yeah, I am playing well, and I just need to keep on doing what I’m doing.’”
At one point in the final round, six different players co-led the Kazakhstan Open presented by ERG, but Johnston pulled ahead with some impressive shot-making.
“The turning point was probably eight and nine. I birdied eight by driving it on the front of the green and then I hit a nine-iron to 15 feet on nine and holed the putt for eagle, which was a big moment because Crocker hit it in the water and made bogey so there was a three-shot swing there.”
Despite a late-charge from England’s Tom Murray, who ultimately finished in second place, Johnston secured a two-stroke victory and the €72,000 winner’s cheque.
“I played great today, this is the best I’ve ever played I think, this whole week,” he said. “Coming into today I was awfully nervous, I’m not going to lie — with how much was at stake — but it’s been a fantastic day and it couldn’t have gone more accordingly to what I dreamed last night before going to bed.”
Starting the week in the 40th position on the Road to Ras Al Khaimah, the 25 year old has now catapulted himself into the fourth position, and virtually locked up a European Tour card for next year.
The win — Johnston’s second of the season after claiming the Andalucia – Costa del Sol Match Play 9 — has exceeded even his own expectations.
“I started the season with no category at all, and was just playing off invites,” he said. “That first win was huge for me in taking the step onto the Challenge Tour and it seems like this one’s going to be a huge win in taking a step onto the European Tour.
“I couldn’t even imagine this was going to happen starting this year in January with the goals that I’d set for myself.”
The Challenge Tour now travels to Mallemort, France for the Hopps Open de Provence, which will be the 24th event on the Road to Ras Al Khaimah.
With only four tournaments remaining before the Ras Al Khaimah Challenge Tour Grand Final, and significant moves made in the Rankings by the likes of Johnston and Murray, who himself rose to the 11th position, the competition is set to turn red-hot down the home-stretch.