Sunday, 21 May 2006

Despite coming under intense pressure from Spain’s Ivó Giner and the Englishman Gary Lockerbie, Finland’s Toni Karjalainen was the coolest man in Belgium as he closed out the second European Challenge Tour victory of his career at the Telenet Trophy with a closing four under par 68 at the Limburg Golf and country Club.

Giner and Lockerbie, playing in the group in front of Karjalainen, posted a pair of excellent final round 66s to finish the week on 13 under, but they came up one shot short of the champion, who was coolness personified coming down the par five 18th in need of a par to secure the first price of €20,800.

Even when he pulled his approach to the final green and was left with no option but to pitch to the back fringe of the green, leaving a tricky 60 foot two putt for the title down the sloping 18th green, Karjalainen was rock solid and judged the distance perfectly, his ball coming to rest just inches from the cup.

Upon tapping in for victory, Karjalainen clenched his fist and broke into his unmistakable grin as he was mobbed by his fellow countrymen Mikko Illonen and Panu Kylliänen around the 18th green.

Kylliänen has proved to be something of a good luck charm for Karjalainen. The two were room-mates when Karjalainen burst onto the Challenge Tour scene with his maiden victory at the 2005 Thomas Björn Open presented by Multidata, and they again shared accommodation this week in Belgium.

Not only did all the surrounding factors fall into place, but, more importantly, Karjalainen felt the same feelings on the golf course as he had when he won in Denmark last year throughout the week at the Limburg Golf and country Club.

He said: “I am one happy camper now! I really enjoyed it out there today and I always felt one step ahead of the game today. You just know when you are hot and I knew that I was hot today. You can feel it and sense it and I knew it as soon as this week began that I had a chance to win because I have been playing great.

“As long as you keep cool and don’t get too nervous or scared then you can do great things in this game and I felt that way today.

“I didn’t really know what was going on around me on the course until I saw the leaderboard on the 16th, and then I saw that there were a couple of guys on 12 under, and I knew that they would birdie the 18th, so I knew that 14 under would be good enough.

“Even when I pulled my second shot to the 18th and I had to chip to the back of the green I knew that I would two putt from there because I have been putting well and felt I could two putt from anywhere out there today.”

Karjalainen finished 20th on the Challenge Tour Rankings last season and has a European Tour card for this season but has found life difficult on the main Tour with very few starts available to him.

But he has shown his Challenge Tour class once more, and his first place cheque saw him climb an incredible 213 place on the Rankings, from 229th to 16th in the space of four days.

Giner and Lockerbie each won €11,700 and moved to 12th and fifth place respectively, but the day belonged to Karjalainen, who finished the week on a similar note to his native Finland in Saturday’s Eurovision Song Contest – as a winner!

“What a great week for Finland – first the Eurovision win and then me here in Belgium, it doesn’t get any better!” he grinned.

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