England’s Lee S James captured his first Challenge Tour title for seven years after a dramatic play-off victory over German rookie Florian Fritsch in the ALLIANZ Open Côtes d’Armor Bretagne.
The former Amateur Champion, whose last tasted success in the 2002 Finnish Challenge, took his tally of Challenge Tour titles to five courtesy of a birdie three on the first extra hole at Golf Blue Green de Pléneuf Val André in Brittany, France.
Fritsch’s chances of securing a maiden Challenge Tour title on his first professional appearance appeared to have evaporated, after he ran up successive double bogeys on the back nine.
But the 23 year old from Munich birdied the final hole in regulation play to join playing partner James on six under par, meaning the pair returned to the 18th tee for the first play-off of the 2009 Challenge Tour season.
Despite strong winds, both men hit their approach shots to within six feet of the hole. But while Fritsch’s putt slid agonisingly past, James found the centre of the cup to take the €24,000 first prize.
The man from Dorset, who moves to third in the Challenge Tour Rankings with earnings of €28,604, said: “I’m very happy with how I played this week and particularly today, because conditions were tough. The wind was blowing as hard as it’s done all week, so I feel like I earned the win. It’s probably the hardest-fought win of them all, which probably makes it more satisfying because I had to grind really hard. I’ve been playing well all year only for my putter to let me down, but this week a few more seemed to drop.
“My round really kicked into gear after the turn, because I birdied the 10th and then chipped in from the bunker on the 11th. The turning point probably came when I birdied the 14th and Florian dropped two shots. But with the closing holes playing straight into the wind, I certainly didn’t think I’d won it at that point. I did think I’d won it on the 18th because it looked for all the world like my birdie putt was going in. But give credit to Florian, because he hit a great putt to take it to extra time. We both played the play-off well, but thankfully my putter came good for me when I needed it most.
“The biggest boost, other than the confidence I’ll take from the win, is that I’m now guaranteed to get into every event, which allows me to plan my schedule. I might not have got into St Omer and a few other tournaments under my category, and with so much prize money at stake that would’ve been a real disadvantage. Now I’ll get a lot more opportunities to play, and hopefully I’ll make the most of them.”
James’ compatriot John Parry finished three shots back in third place, whilst Finland’s Miko Korhonen, whose round of 66 was the lowest of the day, finished a further shot back on two under par.
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