Finland’s Toni Karjalainen overcame final round nerves to secure a one shot victory over Sweden’s Oskar Bergman at the European Challenge Tour’s Thomas Björn Open presented by Multidata, carding a four over par 75 at Esbjerg Golfclub to secure his maiden professional victory and a winner’s cheque for €18,400 that moved him to 15th place on the Challenge Tour Rankings.
The 25 year old never looked in any danger of losing the tournament he had led since day one until the closing stages of the final round, when the pressure and nerves of having to close out his first win as a professional seemed to have a profound effect on him.
Having gone into the last day with a three shot cushion over England’s Jamie Elson, and a four shot lead from Ariel Canete of Argentina, Karjalainen made it difficult for himself as he dropped four shots from the 13th to 17th, before making a gutsy two putt from 30 feet on the last green to take the title.
Elson’s challenge for the title faded early during the fourth round. After matching Karjalainen’s birdie at the first hole, the 24 year old went bogey-double bogey-bogey to fall out of the running and allow Karjalainen the luxury of being able to drop four strokes in his closing six holes.
The Finn went to the turn in level par 35 before being gripped by the pressure of tournament golf and dropping shots on the 13th,14th, 16th and 17th before making that all important par three on the 18th to secure victory.
“I made it tight in the end!” said Karjalainen. “I got away with it in a sense because the guys I was playing with dropped shots early on and that allowed me to totally relax. Then I cruised along nicely for 12 holes before dropping the shots near the end.
“I was feeling alright standing on the 18th tee even though I had dropped shots, but when I saw where my ball landed on the last green I did get a bit nervous. I don’t think that I felt that much pressure when I was dropping the shots coming in because I was a little bit unlucky on some holes, especially the 16th where I had to take a drop for an unplayable lie.
“It was only really on the 17th when I made a bad swing and my ball ended up in the sand and I did not get up and down, but at the end of it all I am still the winner and I am really pleased to have won.”
Bergman had began the day in a tie for 13th, but a best of the day 68 (matched by Gareth Paddison of New Zealand) propelled the 28 year old Swede into second place, for which he received €12,650 and moved to 30th on the Rankings, while Canete took third spot which moved him to 33rd on the Rankings.
But the day belonged to Karjalainen, who was delighted with his first professional win in this his first full season on the Challenge Tour. Karjalainen now becomes a category one Member of the Challenge Tour and is now in a perfect position to plan an assault on the Rankings as he bids to break into the top 20 and secure his playing privileges for The 2006 European Tour.
“Winning here means a lot to me. I said yesterday that if I did manage to win then there would be no more sitting on my bags waiting on phone calls to go to tournaments at the last minute. Now I can plan my schedule for the rest of the season and pick and choose which events I want to play in which is great.”