Michael Lorenzo-Vera was crowned the King of the Challenge Tour after an amazing final round at the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final saw him win both the tournament and the Challenge Tour Rankings.
The Frenchman emerged triumphant after a quite unbelievable last day at the San Domenico Golf to take the €42,800 top prize and jump from seventh to first on the Rankings with season’s earnings of €128,927.
Two behind leader Jamie Donaldson of Wales at the start of the day, Lorenzo-Vera carded a brilliant five under par 66 to pip Donaldson, Dutchman Joost Luiten, Welshman Stuart Manley and Scotland’s Eric Ramsay by a single stroke with a winning total of 15 under par 269.
As the leaders, who all had so much to play for, set out on the last 18 holes of the Challenge Tour season, the pressure and nerves associated with such an important day were blown away by a birdie blitz as the chief protagonists flew out of the blocks to set up a thrilling and fitting finale to the Challenge Tour season.
Lorenzo-Vera, Luiten and Ramsay – playing in the penultimate group – birdied the par three second hole to set the tone for the day, Donaldson and Manley, who had bogeyed the first, following suit in the last match of the day.
The third hole yielded another four birdies for the leaders, with only Ramsay making a par, as the buzz around the course seemed to flow through the field.
Scotland’s Richie Ramsay certainly picked up that vibe with a stunning sequence of four consecutive birdies from the tenth that would contribute to a course record-equalling nine under 62, while Sweden’s Magnus A Carlsson and Frenchman François Delamontagne were picking up shots left right and centre en route to respective scores of 64 and 65, with the Frenchman’s effort good enough to see him barge into the final top 20 on the Rankings and secure a place on The 2008 European Tour.
Meanwhile, the eventual Number One was making back to back bogeys on the fourth and fifth to throw his chances into doubt as Ramsay moved within a shot of Donaldson with another birdie two, this time at the fourth hole.
Lorenzo-Vera was now four behind Donaldson but started an immediate recovery with a birdie on the sixth, while Luiten and Manley got within one of the leader by picking up strokes before the turn.
And so to the back nine, where Lorenzo-Vera, Luiten and Ramsay picked up a shot on the par five 11th, only for Donaldson to cancel their latest advance with a birdie of his own.
Donaldson was now 15 under for the tournament, and looking very strong. Every time someone came at him, he seemed to have an answer, but Lorenzo-Vera was to step up the inquisition with a magical finish.
The 22 year old birdied the 14th to move to 13 under before back to back birdies on the 16th and 17th drew him level with Donaldson and Luiten – who had matched his birdie on the 17th – with one hole to play. As the Frenchman moved off of the 17th green he saw Donaldson in trouble from the tee and sensed his chance.
“I knew that Jamie was in trouble on the 17th but I still thought I had to make birdie on the 18th because Joost was tied with me and Eric was one behind. The 18th is a driver and a wedge, so you are going to have a chance. I ended up in teh bunker and was just thing you have to get it up and down or it's over. I
was shaking when I got in there but I just kept saying 'go through the ball, go through the ball' and I hit it to a few centimetres and ran over and tapped it in!
“Joost made a bogey and Eric missed his putt, but I felt that either Jamie or Stuart would definitely make a three on the last hole.”
After signing his card, Lorenzo-Vera went to the putting green to prepare for a play-off. He returned to the 18th green to be told that Donaldson’s birdie putt had missed. Only Manley could catch him now.
The Welshman, one of the finest putters on the Challenge Tour, struck a fine putt from 15 feet but it slid agonisingly wide, leaving Lorenzo-Vera in dreamland to celebrate with his brother and caddie, Frank, his girlfriend and a posse of French players and caddies.
“It is an amazing feeling to win this tournament and the Rankings,” said Lorenzo-Vera, who had not won a tournament on the 2007 Schedule until now. “I have had a great season anyway, but to finish here by winning it all is very special.”
As Lorenzo-Vera celebrated, Delamontagne and Australia’s Peter Fowler were toasting the securing of their places on The 2008 European Tour with the other 17 Challenge Tour graduates from the class of 2007.
Both players had finished strongly to break into the top 20 on the last day of the season at the expense of New Zealand’s Gareth Paddison and Belgium’s Nicolas Vanhootegem, the unlucky two who just missed out along with Scotsman Andrew McArthur.
Like every Challenge Tour Grand Final there were tales of woe and tales of joy at the San Domenico Golf as Lorenzo-Vera was crowned King of the Rankings after a very special season.