Denmark's Thomas Norret capped an amazing comeback to collect his first Challenge Tour title when he won the Volvo Finnish Open by a shot at Espoo near Helsinki. Norret finished on 15 under par 273after a 65, a shot ahead of England's Gary Birch Jnr, who carded a best-of-the-day 64, and two clear of Scot, Greig Hutcheon with 66.
Norret, who hails from Aalborg, took six months away from the game at the start of this year following a disappointing 2001 in which he finished ranked 97th.
He returned a few weeks ago and showed in only his fourth event of the year that a rest is as good as a tonic. He was neck and neck with Frenchman Ilya Goroneskoul, Swedish amateur Wilhelm Schauman, and Gary Birch Jnr from England for most of the day, but three birdies in the closing four holes swung the tournament Norret’s way.
His second shot to the par five 15th flew the green and he got up-and-down for birdie. “I didn’t want to look at the leaderboards but when I walked to my ball at the 15th I could help but see it and I saw that 13 under was leading and I was 12 under. But I didn’t know if it was up-to-date,” said Norret.
He then birdied the 16th from two metres and suddenly realised he might win. He received a large slice of luck at the 17th when, after a bad drive, his approach was missing the green on the right. But the ball bounced off a slope and back on to the putting surface and he holed from eight metres for a third successive birdie.
“Then I knew this is my tournament,” added Norret. “It’s been an incredible week,” he added. “I was hitting it well in the early rounds without sinking too many putts, but today I took all my chances. My goal at the start of the day was just to go out and to give myself a chance to score.
“This win will be a great lift for my career. I love Finland. I was second in the Finnish Masters three years ago and eighth in 2000. Now I’m looking forward to coming back for the Masters in a few weeks.”
But the Dane was saved from a nerve-wrenching play-off by a self confessed "stupid mistake" by Birch Jnr, who finished runner-up for the second time in two months.
The error came at the par four 14th and cost Birch his only bogey. "I have been hitting a three iron all week to lay up short of the water on that hole, which is the easiest par four on the course," he said. "But today I chose a five wood and it found a watery grave. It was a stupid mistake."
However, Birch, 23 year old based in Germany, was relieved to know he collected £7,109 to move into fourth place on the Challenge Tour Order of Merit.
Another relieved man was Hutcheon, who produced his best performance of the season, his 66 for 275, 13 under par, containing seven birdies, while Mikael Piltz was the leading Finn in joint fourth place on 276 after a 67 alongside Goroneskoul with 68 and Schauman.
The Swedish amateur began the day sharing the lead with fellow Swede, Johan Edfors, and finished with a 71, while Edfors shot 72 for equal seventh on 277 with England's Simon Wakefield, joint leader for the first two rounds, who closed with 67.