Scotland’s Peter Whiteford claimed the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final title and with it a place in the top five of the Challenge Tour Rankings after seeing off Andrew Tampion of Australia in a sudden death play-off.
On a dramatic day at San Domenico Golf in Puglia, Italy, where gusting winds again caused havoc and heartache in equal measure, Whiteford prevailed over Tampion courtesy of a birdie at the first extra hole after both men had finished on five under par.
The €51,500 winner’s cheque was the biggest payday of his career, and the Scot can now look forward to joining The 2010 Race to Dubai after finishing fifth in the Rankings, which were won by Italy’s Edoardo Molinari with record earnings of €242,979.
Tampion, who started the week in 39th place in the Rankings, could at least console himself with a cheque for €34,200 which moved the man from Melbourne up 14 places to 15th and secured a return to The European Tour at the expense of Sweden’s Peter Gustafsson, who finished in the unenviable position of 21st.
There was also despair for Germany’s Christoph Günther, whose place in the all-important top 20 was taken by Whiteford’s fellow Scot Andrew McArthur, who finished in a tie for fourth place on two under par to erase the pain of his near misses in the past two seasons.
But the day belonged to Whiteford and also Molinari, whose total earnings saw him finish the season some €108,357 ahead of Portugal’s José-Filipe Lima in second place. The top five was completed by Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts and Welshman Rhys Davies, who had to settle for third place on four under par after his birdie putt on the 18th green just shaved the hole.
In contrast, Whiteford followed up a nerveless ten foot par putt on the 72nd hole with an eight foot birdie putt in the play-off to capture his third Challenge Tour title.
The Scot, whose round of 67 included five birdies, said: “I’m obviously absolutely delighted – it’s the biggest win of my career. My aim at the start of the week was just to consolidate my place in the top 15 of the Rankings, so to finish in the top five is fantastic. It means I won’t have to be re-ranked next year, so I can just relax a bit more. I didn’t play well on The European Tour last year, but I’ve bounced back pretty well. I’ve been consistent all season without really looking like winning, but I suppose I’ve saved my best until last.
“I hit two great putts on the 18th in regulation play and the play-off, which has usually been my downfall in the past. So it’s nice to know I can hold it together under pressure. There were some nerves out there today, but that’s what you play the game for – to get in the hunt. The adrenaline was really flowing – my chip on the last in regulation was a bit heavy, and then in the play-off I hit my drive miles. If only I could hit it that far all the time! My professional play-off record before today was played two lost two, so it was nice to get that monkey off my back.
“It’ll give me a lot of confidence to take into next season. I’ve got experience of playing on the main Tour before so I know what to expect, and hopefully I’ve learned my lessons from last time. I know what my strengths and weaknesses are, so hopefully I can make the most of my strengths and iron out the flaws in my game. I can’t wait to get out there again now.”
Those sentiments were echoed by three-time winner Molinari, who finished seventh to secure his 12th top ten finish of a phenomenal season. The Italian’s next visit is to China, where he will hope to partner his brother Francesco to glory at the Omega Mission Hills World Cup, before beginning his quest for a maiden European Tour title at the Alfred Dunhill Championship.
He said: “Obviously I would’ve liked to keep my 100 per cent record in Italy on the Challenge Tour this season, but I’m not too disappointed. It’s still been a great season, and now I can’t wait for the next one to start.”
Davies will also be a force to be reckoned with next season, having won twice and finished in the top ten a further three times in just 13 appearances on the Challenge Tour.
He said: “Right now I feel a bit disappointed, because I had a great chance of winning, or at least getting into the play-off. But it wasn’t to be, and I’ve still got to be pretty pleased with two third place finishes in the last two weeks. It was a nice way to round off the season. The main goal at the start of the year was to get my European Tour card, and I’ve achieved that so it’s mission accomplished.”
It was also a bitter sweet day for Tampion, who went agonisingly close with his birdie putts in both regulation play and the play-off.
He said: “You always want to win, but Pete obviously played very well today and has done all season, so he deserved it. I thought the first birdie putt was in, but it just didn’t drop. But I was still pleased with how I played today, after playing so poorly yesterday. I got off to a good start which helped, and I also saved par with some good putts. It was always going to be tough to come here and win, because my season hasn’t been brilliant. But I gave it a pretty good go, so I can be pleased with myself.”
McArthur also professed himself pleased, despite a triple bogey seven at the 14th which put pay to his chances of victory.
The Scot, who finished in a tie for fourth place to climb to 17th in the Rankings, said: “All in all I have to be happy, because if you’d offered me 20th place at the start of the week, I would’ve taken it. But it is slightly bitter sweet, because I’m disappointed not to win, having got myself into a great position.”
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