A magnificent up and down on the 72nd hole ended Alvaro Salto’s six year wait for a third European Challenge Tour victory at the Parco di Monza Challenge. The Spaniard, needing to get down in two from a horrible lie in the greenside bunker to secure victory over England’s Gareth Davies, produced the kind of magical escape that would have made his hero Seve Ballesteros proud and guaranteed a cheque for €20,800 at the Golf Club Milano.
Salto and Davies played together for the last two rounds and enjoyed a terrific battle for the title. Never once were they more than two strokes apart over 36 holes and it was fitting that they finished in the top two places on the Parco di Monza Challenge’s final leaderboard.
Salto began the day one stroke clear, but, after both men birdied the par five first hole, Davies levelled the scores with a birdie at the second, only to give that shot back immediately as he bogeyed the third. Salto then dropped a stroke at the fourth, but the tone was set for a contest that was to go all the way to the 18th green.
As they teed up on the 18th, the scores were as they were at the beginning of the round, with Salto one up but under pressure from the Englishman after bogeying the 17th.
Davies teed off first, finding the right hand rough before Salto boomed a drive straight down the middle. The Englishman’s approach was unfortunate to creep into the left hand greenside bunker, but Salto followed him in, his ball finding an awkward down hill lie that required the Spaniard to hit his third shot with one foot outside the sandtrap.
With only a few feet of green to work with, and under sever pressure, he produced a fantastic escape shot, his ball stopping six feet past the hole. Davies put his third to around the same distance, but Salto rendered the Englishman’s par putt insignificant in terms of the title by holing his own putt for a final round of 69 and a wining score of 13 under par 271.
As is often the case in such situations, Davies missed his own attempt at par, but his 70, for a final total of 11 under, was good enough to take second place – one stroke clear of Spain’s Rafael Cabrera Bello and Frenchman Anthony Snobeck – and secure a cheque for €14,300.
Salto punched the air in delight as he began the celebrations. He said: “This means a lot to me. It means that I can still play under that kind of pressure and get the right results. The last couple of times I was in contention I did not perform well, but this tells me that I can still do it and I am delighted to be able to say that.
“My bunker shot at the last could have been worse because I though my approach was going to hit the tree close the bunker as it came down, and if that had happened the ball could have gone anywhere. But it was still a tough shot because I had my right foot out of the bunker and I knew that I had to get it close enough to make the out.
“Then, when I was standing over the putt I knew that I had to trust my feeling on it and I managed to do that. I think I played with about ten per cent of Seve’s game today, but that is good enough for me.
“Spanish players of my generation always think about Seve when they are in situations like that. He played all of those shots without any fear and he could do anything and get out of any situation around the greens because of that. As I said, I think I had about ten percent of Seve in me today, and, for me, that will always be good enough to win."