Michael Kirk of South Africa took the Stanbic Zambia Open with a brilliant fourth round 68 that secured him €17,600 and the current Number One spot on the 2004 European Challenge Tour Rankings.
In taking the title, Kirk went one better than his second place finish last year at the Luska Golf Club and denied his compatriot Leonard Loxton victory in his first tournament for eight months.
Loxton began the final round three shots ahead of Kirk, and quickly went four in front after a birdie at the second. But he allowed his fellow countryman to draw level with a double bogey at the third and a further dropped shot at the fourth – where Kirk made his first birdie of the day.
That two shot swing at the fourth hole was not going to be the last of the day. As both players made their par putts on the 16th, they were level on 17 under par – Kirk having picked up another three shots at the fifth, seventh and 13th, while Loxton had birdied six, eight, ten and 14 before bogeying the 15th.
Then came the 17th, and another two shot swing that would decide the outcome of the tournament. Kirk holed a great putt from 15 feet for birdie moments before Loxton missed from two feet for par. That gave Kirk the cushion he craved and he made a comfortable par at the last to record his first professional victory.
“Obviously I’m delighted to have won my first tournament as a professional,” said Kirk. “It is a big moment for me that I have waited over three years for so I am going to enjoy it.
“I knew that if I could get to a total of 18 or 19 under par today then I would stand a chance of winning. I didn't make a bogey in my round, which was key to the victory – and, of course, that two-shot swing on 17 was huge in the outcome of the tournament.”
Kirk eventually finished two ahead of Loxton, with Argentinian Hernan Rey a further two shots back on 13 under 279.
Northern Irishman Michael Hoey produced the best round of the day to climb 14 places on the leaderboard and secure fourth place after his brilliant seven under par 66.
The 25 year old from Belfast started the final round at the Lusaka Golf Club in a tie for 18th position on four under par. He picked up a birdie at the second hole but gave it straight back with a bogey five at the third.
Hoey steadied the ship with two straight pars before embarking on a run of seven birdies in 13 holes to sail up the leaderboard and into fourth place, picking up a cheque for €6600.
For Kirk, his first victory as a professional has infused him a with a winning mentality that he believes was missing from his game last year as he just missed out on the Challenge Tour top 15 by five places.
“I would say it’s true that last year all that was missing for me was a victory. I finished second twice last year and had other good finishes but never did enough to win.
“Now that I know I definitely can win, I think I’ll be able to approach the game with a lot more confidence – hopefully enough to get me into the top 15 on the Rankings at the end of the season.”