Gary Boyd proved what a difference a year can make in golf when he triumphed in the Tusker Kenya Open on the European Challenge Tour.
The 22 year old Englishman carded a final round 69 at the Muthaiga Golf Club in Nairobi for a 13 under par total of 271 to take the title by four shots from his fellow countrymen Andrew Butterfield and Philip Golding. South African’s David Hewan finished fourth while Frenchman Victor Riu took fifth.
A year ago, in his debut season on the Challenge Tour, Boyd finished in the top five in the self-same event, and a promising season seemed on the cards when he followed that up with runners-up finishes in events in both Argentina and Poland.
But he failed to capitalise on that good early season form and slipped back to eventually finish 29th on the Challenge Tour Rankings – nine places and some €15,800 short of the 20 players who gained cards to this season’s European Tour by rights.
But, although there is still the majority of the 2009 Challenge Tour season to play, Boyd could not have gotten off to a better start, winning on his first outing of the year to immediately take over at the top of the Rankings with €28,800 to his name.
“It still hasn’t quite sunk in what I have achieved today but that will probably come when I go home next week and meet up with my friends and family there,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll manage to have a celebration.
“It was one of my goals for the season to get a win under my belt as quickly as possible after having gone so close last year and I am delighted to have been able to do that. It just goes to show that all the hard work you put in on your game does pay off and you can get results.”
Starting the final round five shots to the good, Boyd’s nearest challenger was Butterfield who signalled his intentions immediately with birdies at the first two holes. But Boyd was equal to the challenge with birdies of his own at the second, third and fourth.
Further into the final round, the next man to emerge from the pack to challenge the leader was Frenchman Victor Riu, who moved second on his own thanks to a fine run of four birdies in seven holes from the fourth to the tenth. But the 24 year old Frenchman’s challenge ended when he dropped four shots in a row from the 11th.
It left the gauntlet to be taken up by the vastly experienced Englishman Philip Golding, playing on the Challenge Tour after losing his playing privileges on The European Tour at the end of the 2006 season.
The 46 year old Londoner, playing some 40 minutes in front of Boyd, set the clubhouse mark of nine under par 275 following a flawless 65, a final round which saw the three time European Tour champion post three birdies on each half of his card.
Three three putt bogeys in a row from Boyd at the 11th, 12th and 13th gave the watching Golding hope that he might have a chance but the young man steadied the ship with three solid par figures before a birdie three at the 17th but the destination of the title beyond doubt.
“I had a look at the leaderboard at the turn and saw that I was still five clear which was good but then the three three putts rocked the boat a little,” he said. “But I hit a great approach shot into the tough 14th which gave me an easy par and that settled me down.
“I hit a great tee shot at the 17th as well and then couldn’t believe it when I found my ball in a divot in the fairway and I thought back to Immelman at the Masters last year. But I hit a great approach shot from there to about three feet and when I made the putt for birdie, I knew I was going to win.”
Boyd’s immediate celebrations were put on hold as he headed for a television set in his hotel to watch his beloved Manchester United take on Everton in the FA Cup semi-final from Wembley before he himself returns to Old Trafford next weekend to watch his heroes face Tottenham in the league.
In golfing terms, his next Challenge Tour outing will be either in the Moroccan Classic by Banque Populaire at the end of this month, or in the Allianz Open Côtes d’Armor Bretagne in mid May.