Mark Pilkington secured the richest first prize in the history of a stand alone European Challenge Tour event with a fantastic victory at the 2006 Kazakhstan Open. The Welshman, who led from day two, carded a final round of three under par 69 to win by two strokes from England’s Sahun P Webster at the Nurtau Golf Club and pick up that record first prize of €48,000.
That winner’s cheque – the first of his professional career – elevated Pilkington to second place on the Challenge Tour Rankings with just two events of the 2006 season remaining, and put him in a wonderful position to catch Number One Johan Axgren.
Axgren took a share of 14th place to boost his earnings to €103,848, but his clear lead has now been slashed by Pilkington’s win in Kazakhstan, with the Welshman now totalling €98,135 fro the season.
Pilkington had challengers coming at him from everywhere throughout the final day, but he never lost his lead despite coming under intense pressure from firstly Englishman Zane Scotland, then Jesus Maria Arruti of Spain and finally Webster.
He got his final round off to a great start with a birdie at the second hole but dropped a stroke on the par five fifth with Scotland making a move up the leaderboard. A birdie at the ninth helped him increase his lead and he followed that with two more on the tenth and 11th.
A bogey on the 12th let Arruti back in the chase, but Pilkington withheld the challenge of the Spaniard and Webster with his final birdie of the day on the 13th. That moved him to 16 under, and he withstood the immense pressure to par his way home and ensure a two shot win.
“It feels fantastic to get my first win as a pro – especially in this event, which is huge for the Challenge Tour in terms of the prize money,” said Pilkington.
“It’s very satisfying because of that and the fact that this is probably the best field we have had on the Challenge Tour all season. All the best players this season were here and we played on a tough golf course that you really had to think your way around, so it feels great.
Despite all the eagles and birdies Pilkington racked up in is 16 under par 272 aggregate score, his best shot of the week was arguably at the 72nd hole of the tournament.
Having played his approach shot into the greenside bunker, Pilkington conjured a marvellous recovery, floating his ball to the hole and spinning it back to eight inches to leave himself the simplest of tap-ins for victory.
“Under the circumstances I think that’s probably the best bunker shot that I have ever played,” he smiled. “As I said I am just delighted to have won here. I have been a professional for eight years now, and this is why you put in the hours of practice – to get into a position to win.”
|2||WEBSTER, Shaun P||ENG||18||-14|
|T3||ARRUTI, Jesus Maria||ESP||18||-12|