Australian Daniel Gaunt took advantage of a final hole bogey by amateur sensation Tommy Fleetwood to secure his maiden Challenge Tour title at the inaugural English Challenge.
Gaunt, who only got into the €150,000 event through his position at the top of the EuroPro Tour Order of Merit, benefited from Fleetwood’s costly slip-up to take the title by one stroke.
The duo reached the par three 18th at Stoke by Nayland Hotel, Golf and Spa level on 17 under par, and when both men found the middle of the green with their tee shots, a play-off seemed the most likely outcome.
But when Fleetwood rushed his birdie attempt four feet past the hole and missed the return, Gaunt was presented with a par putt from three feet to capture the title, which he duly took.
The reward for the man from Melbourne was a cheque for €24,000 and a one-year exemption on the Challenge Tour, whilst Fleetwood – who dropped back into a tie for second place alongside Scotland’s Craig Lee – will return to the amateur ranks at next week’s English Amateur Championship.
Gaunt, who became the ninth first-time winner of the 2010 Challenge Tour season, said: “I’m not sure whether it’s sunk in just yet, but I’m absolutely delighted – it’s probably the biggest day of my career so far. Trailing by four shots overnight I knew I had to put pressure on Olesen, and three birdies to start was a pretty good way to do that! I couldn’t have asked for any more, and it probably upset his rhythm a little bit. After that it was just a matter of sticking in there, because nobody seemed to be coming from a long way back and chasing the leading pack down. That made it a little easier, but winning’s never easy!
“When I got to the 16th tee I started feeling the nerves a little bit, because you’re faced with two tough driving holes. I got lucky on the 16th because I hit a terrible drive, had to chip it out and then ended up making a really good par. Obviously Tommy played really well, it was just unfortunate that he missed that putt on the last, for him and probably for the tournament also. But he’s going to have a massive career ahead of him, so I don’t feel too sorry for him!”
For his part, Fleetwood expressed disappointment at having not become only the fourth amateur to triumph on the Challenge Tour, but he could at least take solace from the fact that he had exceeded all expectations.
He said: “I can’t really dwell too much on that final putt – having missed a short one for birdie yesterday, I think it’s fair to say that the 18th green wasn’t too kind to me over the weekend! All I was thinking of was holing that first putt to win the tournament, and I ended up running it past. I putted really well all day, but I guess you’re going to miss a short one sooner or later, and it’s just a shame it had to come at the last. I made enough birdies to win the tournament, but just didn’t manage to keep the doubles off my card. At least I now know I can compete with these guys out here, which obviously gives me a lot of confidence.
“Credit to Daniel, because he started like a train – after seven holes, it looked like he was going to shoot a 60! But I managed to chase him down, and ended up losing by one shot. I wasn’t even meant to be playing in this tournament, because I got in through an invite, so to finish second was pretty pleasing. Hopefully I can go one better at the English Amateur next week – if I play as well as I did here this week, I’ll be tough to beat. Then I’ll start preparing for life as a professional, and hopefully start earning some money. I’ve obviously missed out on a fairly tasty cheque here, but hopefully there will be other days.”
Lee’s round of 68, which was sealed with a closing birdie, saw the Scotsman join Fleetwood in a share of second place on 16 under par. He will now turn his attentions back to the EuroPro Tour, where he will no longer have Gaunt to contend with.
Lee said: “I think a few of the guys on the EuroPro will be pretty pleased to see the back of Daniel! He’s been exceptional this season, so that’s one less hurdle to overcome. I was very pleased with how I played today and this week in general, so whilst I would’ve loved to have won, I’ve got no complaints. It’s only one week, but I’d like to think I’ve proved I’m more than capable of holding my own on the Challenge Tour, and I’m confident of doing myself justice on the main Tour, if and hopefully when I get back out there.”
Overnight leader Thorbjørn Olesen endured a day to forget, as a round of 74 saw the talented Dane slip back to fourth place on 15 under par. But Olesen could at least console himself with a cheque for €10,500, which saw him close the gap on Rankings leader Robert Dinwiddie of England to €9,608.
Frenchman Alexandre Kaleka shot a round of 67 – the joint lowest of the day – to take fifth place on 14 under par, one shot ahead of the English duo of Ben Evans (71) and Matt Ford (70), and Welshman Stuart Manley (69).
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