Nicolas Colsaerts denied Rhys Davies a second play-off victory in the space of three weeks as he made amends for a recent play-off defeat of his own by capturing the SK Golf Challenge in Finland.
The 26 year old from Brussels produced a stunning finish at Linna Golf, birdieing the last two holes in regulation time for a closing 66 then delivering the rapier thrust with another birdie three on the 18th – the second play-off hole – to edge out Davies and Frenchman Julien Guerrier.
Colsaerts celebrated his first professional success since turning professional on his 18th birthday in 2000, just three days before going on to earn his card at The European Tour Qualifying School.
“It’s taken me nine years for this first professional event and it feels really good” said a relieved Colsaerts, who becomes the third Belgian golfer to win on the Challenge Tour following Nicolas Vanhootegem and Didier De Vooght.
Colsaerts’s final 66 lifted him from the pack – he started the last day five shots in arrears – and his total of 277, 11 under par, was matched in quick succession by Welshman Davies (also 66) and Guerrier (71), whose five putt par putt for outright victory on the last just lipped out.
The Belgian jumps to seventh place on the Challenge Tour Rankings with €60,454 after pocketing the winner’s cheque for €28,000 while Davies – winner of the SWALEC Wales Challenge last month – and Guerrier climb to 14th and 12th respectively.
He added: “I felt I should have won in Ireland in June but lost a play-off to Robert Coles, so I am glad to come out as a winner this time. I was glad to put in such a strong finish and I knew I just had to sit and wait to see what the others did.”
Davies shrugged off the disappointment of defeat, saying: “It was Nicolas’s turn this week. I had my moment in Wales and I’ve not complaints. I regard this as another good week and I feel that a second victory isn’t far away.
“The main thing is to get into contention and handle that feeling. I want to give myself chance to win on a regular basis and this is a big positive as I thought I had no chance going into the back nine. To play a course of this quality in 31 was very encouraging.”
Over 5000 Finns fans turned out in glorious sunny weather to cheer on their home favourites, Mikko Ilonen, Antti Ahokas and Roope Kakko, but it wasn’t to be a day for a home victory, the trio finishing tied 26th, tied ninth and eighth respectively. However the crowds helped create a tremendous atmosphere which inspired the field to great things.
Guerrier, the 2006 Amateur Champion, came agonisingly close to making his Challenge Tour breakthrough, but bunkered his approach to the last when needing a par for victory. He splashed out superbly to five feet but missed the putt.
All three protagonists had birdie opportunities from close range at the first visit to the 18th for the play-off but no-one could seize the day. At the second attempt, Guerrier did well to make a par from the fringe while Davies missed from 25 feet.
It was left to Colsaerts to size up his opportunity and grab it with both hands from 12 feet, leaving Davies and Guerrier to reflect on successful but ultimately frustrating weeks.
Guerrier said: “Unfortunately my putter wasn’t hot enough on the back nine today. I had quite a few birdie chances but couldn’t make many. Overall I am disappointed but feel that I am learning all the time. That’s what you have to do out here.”