England’s Sam Little became the 15th first time winner on this year's Challenge Tour when he holed a 10-foot birdie putt on the final green to win the Formby Hall Challenge on Merseyside. It gave him a closing 69 for 276, 12 under par, and one shot winning margin over another Englishman, Grant Hamerton, with Ireland’s Damien McGrane third on 279.
After playoffs at Formby Hall in the past two years, another look likely as all three players topped the leaderboard on 11 under over the closing stages. But while Hamerton missed from eight feet at the last to sign for 70 and 277, McGrane, who led by three at one stage, began spilling shots.
The Irishman put himself out of the race when he bogeyed four of the closing five holes for a 76, while Little fired an eight iron from 128 yards to 10 feet to set up his winning birdie.
"I can't believe it," he said. "I've only made three cuts in 10 previous Challenge Tour events this year but I played steady all day and holed out well."
Steady was an understatement as Little signed for four birdies and just one dropped shot when he three-putted from 40 feet at the 17th.
“I felt then that my chance had gone,” he added. “I knew I was level with Grant at that stage but I didn’t know that Damien was going backwards.”
McGrane must feel that he let the tournament get away although he suffered some awful luck over the closing stages.
The Wexford man, who led from the first round and began the final day three strokes clear, was still three ahead at the turn. At the long 14th, McGrane hit a three wood for safety but it flew into a drain alongside the fairway, which cost him a shot. Then at the 191-yard 16th he three-putt to drop back to 11 under and into a tie with the other two.
On the par four 17th, his eight iron approach bounced off the green into a hazard and cost him another shot.
With Little having secured his final hole birdie to go to 12 under, McGrane needed to eagle the par five 18th to tie, but it wasn't to be. This time his six iron lay-up flew 220 yards and finished in the burn that crossed the fairway. The chance had gone and so had another shot as he came home in 40 for 76.
"It just wasn't my day," he said. "I got it wrong a few times but I couldn't believe my luck over those closing holes. But that's golf where m any strange things happen."
At least McGrane had the consolation of collecting a prize of 5,451 euro, which hoists him into 42nd place on the Challenge Tour Order of Merit.
Little, who celebrated his 26th birthday last Friday, collected 14,512 euro, while Hamerton, who had the chance to force a play-off but missed an eight-foot chance on the final green, climbs to 14th after earning 9,680 euro.
Olivier David from France finished fourth on 280 after a 72 alongside England’s Paul Sherman and Richard Dinsdale from Wales, but Gary Clark from London saw another winning chance slip away with a closing 75 for joint seventh.
Tom Whitehouse, the only amateur in the field, was paired with his cousin, Sam Walker in the final round and they both returned 76 for 286.
So for the second week running S Little has won on the Challenge Tour. Last week it was Stuart Little in the Rolex Trophy, now Sam has joined the winner’s circle.