Two weeks ago in Poland, Spain’s Alvaro Salto watched his friend and travelling companion, José Manuel Lara, collect his maiden victory on the European Challenge Tour.
That success proved the inspiration for first-season professional Salto, 24, to make his big breakthrough in the Eulen Open Galea in Bilbao.
Salto overcame the handicap of a third round 77 and a five stroke deficit going into the final afternoon by shooting a closing 68 for an eight-under-par total of 280.
It secured Salto his first Challenge Tour win and a cheque for £9,699, with England’s Daren Lee also shooting a four under par 68 to take outright second place.
"It’s been a wonderful few weeks for Spain," enthused Salto, after staging his dramatic fight back. "José Manuel and I have travelled together this season, and now we have won the last two tournaments. It’s amazing."
Salto and Lara were team-mates in the Spanish amateur side two years ago and had never lost touch. In April, when Salto turned professional, the pair linked up again on the Challenge Tour. Now both are reaping the success of the joint initiative.
However, life hasn’t been much fun for the new Eulen Open Galea champion. He explained: "I suffered a wrist injury in the European Amateur Championship last year and missed about nine months. I eventually needed a small operation to cure the problem, and it’s fine now."
Salto had grabbed the halfway lead in Bilbao with rounds of 67 and 68, to take a narrow advantage over Thomas Nielsen of Norway and first round leader José Carriles of Spain, who opened with a 66.
But as the winds grew in intensity in Bilbao on Saturday, so the scores started to soar. Eventually, Tournament Director José Maria Zamora was forced to suspend the third round due to the strong winds reaching 90kmh at some stages.
That meant an early start for the field on Sunday, and in Salto’s case resulted in him playing 32 holes. Although the winds had relented, it was not an easy day and Salto’s chances seemed to have been dashed when he took a 77 to fall five behind the new leader, Nielsen.
His 71 put him in command, and he was still clear of the field with four holes remaining and seemingly on course for victory. However Salto, with birdies at the second, fourth, fifth, and 11th was in hot pursuit along with 33-year-old Londoner Lee.
Nielsen then bogeyed the 15th - which Salto birdied - and paid an extravagant penalty for a wild hook at the par three 16th. His shot hit a tree and a resulting double bogey five cost him the chance of victory as he finished with a 75.
Salto, despite a bogey at the same hole, was able to squeeze home with just a single shot to spare to climb to 33rd in the European Challenge Tour rankings with £12,227.
Several players made significant progress as the Tour reaches the end of season climax when the precious cards are handed out for those in the top 15.
Lee’s closing 68 equalled the best of the day achieved by Salto and propelled him into runner-up position, but more importantly it elevated him from 23rd to 13th in the Rankings.
Nielsen may have cause to rue his late slip. But for that, he would also be inside the top 15 in the Rankings. As it is, his £3,008 moved him up from 18th to 16th while Roger Winchester, who shared third with Nielsen and Marc Pendaries, jumped from 14th to 10th.
Warren Bennett, the runaway Rankings leader, missed the cut but still holds a commanding £36,000 lead over Massimo Scarpa at the top of the list.
280 Alvaro Salto (Sp) 67, 68, 77, 68
281 Daren Lee (Eng) 67, 74, 72, 68
282 Marc Pendaries (Fra) 68, 72, 73, 69
Thomas Nielsen (Nor) 68, 67, 71, 75
Roger Winchester (Eng) 67, 70, 71, 74
283 Jose Carriles (Sp) 66, 74, 71, 72
Mike Miller (Sco) 70, 72, 66, 73
284 Fernando Roca (Sp) 71, 67, 76, 70
286 Ricardo Gonzalez (Arg) 69, 72, 74, 71
Gary Murphy (Ire) 69, 75, 71, 71
Henrik Bjornstadt (Nor) 74, 70, 71, 71
Ben Tinning (Den) 72, 68, 77, 69
Fredric Larsson (Swe) 70, 70, 74, 72
Marten Olander (Swe) 71, 73, 70 72