Rhys Davies gave Welsh golf the perfect result at The Vale Hotel Golf and Spa Resort on the outskirts of Cardiff when he beat Englishman James Morrison at the third hole of a sudden-death play-off to win the SWALEC Wales Challenge.
Having holed a testing ten foot putt for par to join Morrison in the extra holes drama, the 24 year old from Bridgend repeated the feat on the first return to the 18th green moments later, before taking the title in front of his adoring public at the third time of asking after the Englishman pushed his approach shot into the water hazard.
The entire day’s play had been brought forward due to the threat of bad weather in the Vale of Glamorgan in the afternoon and it proved a good decision, as the rain began to lash down as the play-off reached its conclusion.
But nothing could dampen the spirits of Davies, who recorded his maiden Challenge Tour victory, and his legion of supporters who braved the elements to see him do it.
“It is a fantastic feeling to win my first Challenge Tour event and, obviously, it is that little bit more extra special given the fact that I’ve done it here in Wales,” said Davies who moved from 121st on the Challenge Tour Rankings at the start of the week into 20th place having pocketed the €24,000 first prize.
“I had a lot of support out there this afternoon and even though the rain was hammering down at the end of the day in a play off there, there was still a lot of people around the 18th cheering me on which was great and was nice to see.
“I actually hit two good shots up the last in regulation but I think the wind switched or something because I had a terrible lie in the bunker. I was thinking to myself, ‘just get it on the green and give yourself a chance’ and I hit a pretty good bunker shot. I felt confident over the putt and knocked it in from about eight feet.
“I had a similar scenario on the first play-off hole but my putting has been good for some time now and I holed out well which was important. I was fairly confident I wasn’t going to miss that one either. Then, when I saw James put his shot in the water on the third play-off hole, I knew the victory was mine.”
Davies’ success was the first Welsh victory recorded on the Challenge Tour since Jamie Donaldson won the Guatemala Open in 2007 and indeed was the first Welsh player to win on home soil since Sion Bebb won this event at Nefyn in 2006.
He also became the third home nation player to win on the 2009 Challenge Tour following Italy’s Edoardo Molinari in the Piemonte Open in Turin, and France’s Alexandre Kaleka in the Allianz EurOpen de Lyon in Monthieux two weeks ago.
Morrison battled hard all day after an extraordinary start to his round saw him pitch and putt for par at each of the first four holes. Birdies at the fifth and sixth holes moved him up the leaderboard and, although he three putted the 13th for bogey, he too holed a testing ten footer on the 72nd hole to keep his dream of success alive.
The putt saw him end with a one under par 71 for a two under par total of 286, a score and total matched exactly by Davies moments later. He had putts to win on both the first and second play-off holes but could not take then – the defeat particularly hard to take for the 24 year old from Weybridge who double bogeyed the final hole in the event last year to miss out on the play-off.
The consolation for Morrison, and his fiancée Jessica who supported him all the way, was the fact that his cheque for €16,500 was good enough to elevate him from 32nd to 11th place on the Challenge Tour Rankings.
Davies and Morrison finished one shot clear of Sweden’s Andreas Högberg, who carded a best of day 68 for 287 while the English duo of Matthew Cort and Steve Surry and Greig Hutcheon of Scotland shared fourth place on level par 288.
The fact the tournament ended in a play-off did not come as a surprise as the demanding conditions throughout the week at The Vale had seen players bunched at the top of the leaderboard almost from the word go.
Indeed, at one point near the closing stages, it looked like there would be more than two players in the sudden-death drama, with five players – Morrison, Davies, Cort, Surry and Högberg – all tied on the two under par mark with the clubhouse in sight.
But, one by one they fell away to leave only two. First to fall by the wayside was Högberg who bogeyed both the 16th and the 18th holes to see his chances disappear. It was particularly galling for the 27 year old from Stockholm who had produced by far the best golf of any of the leading contenders and indeed was six under par for his round through 15 holes.
Next to go was Englishman Cort, who had shared the opening day lead with John Parry, but whose chances of victory disappeared when he made double bogey six at the 16th. He was then followed out the exit door by his fellow countryman Surry, the second round leader, who dropped shots at both the 17th and 18th.