Spaniard Carlos del Moral captured his second Challenge Tour title by a single stroke after a stunning closing round of 66 at the M2M Russian Challenge Cup.
The Spaniard fell five strokes behind overnight leader Jamie McLeary of Scotland after bogeying the third hole at Tseleevo Golf and Polo Club, but blitzed through the field with seven birdies to take the title by one shot from the English duo of Tommy Fleetwood and Matt Ford, and Denmark’s Thorbjørn Olesen.
Ford’s round of 66 was the joint lowest of the day, one shot better than his compatriot Fleetwood, who now has two runner-up finishes to his name in just three Challenge Tour appearances.
Fleetwood, just 19, had a birdie chance from eight feet on the last hole to match playing partner Del Moral’s 11 under par aggregate total, but his firmly-struck putt shaved the hole to leave Olesen – playing in the group behind – as the only man standing between the Spaniard and victory.
The Dane, who now also has two runner-up finishes to his name in his debut season, gave himself every opportunity to force a play-off with an approach to six feet on the 18th hole, but subsequently misread the line of his putt to hand the title to Del Moral.
His winner’s cheque for €28,000 moved the 25 year old to 19th place in the Rankings, and within sight of a return to The European Tour.
Del Moral, whose only previous victory came at the 2006 Texbond Open, said: “It’s been the best week of my life. The golf course couldn’t be in better condition or any prettier, and I play one of the best rounds of my life to win. I started off a little shaky – it was quite chilly and also a little windy when we teed off this morning. But then it warmed up a little, and my round caught fire from the fourth hole. I told myself after that just to let things happen and not force it, especially with my putts. The greens here are so good, all you need is to give your putts a good roll and there’s a fair chance they’ll go in. I made great putts for birdie on the 12th and 14th holes, then made a huge par putt on the 16th and got up and down on the last to win.
“It’s a great feeling, and luckily I’ve now got a week off to celebrate. I’ve been trying not to think too much about the Rankings, and I’m not going to start now! I’ve got four more tournaments to get my card back, and hopefully I’m good enough. These two weeks off now will definitely help, because I’ve been playing the last five weeks straight. But I don’t feel tired – I could go and play another 18 holes, no problem! I’ve worked hard on my fitness recently, and it’s really started paying off. Now it’s party time!”
Fleetwood’s runner-up finish moves the talented teenager up to 55th in the Rankings after just two events as a professional, and guarantees him a category on the Challenge Tour in 2011 and a place in the field for the next event, the ALLIANZ Golf Open du Grand Toulouse.
As he was after his appearance as an amateur at the English Challenge earlier in the season, where a costly bogey on the last handed the title to Daniel Gaunt, Fleetwood was keen to take the positives from a week which saw him enhance his reputation as one to watch in the future.
He said: “I played really well, and hardly put a foot wrong all day. My only bogey was on the 12th, which is probably the hardest hole on the course. I stood on the 14th tee and though I’d need to get to 11 or 12 under to win, and I gave it a good go by holing some clutch putts on the way in. The putt on the last was a bit too firm – I still though it was in, but it just slipped past as it did at the English Challenge.
“But I can still take a lot of positives from the week. I came so close to winning again, and hopefully if I can keep banging on the door, it’ll open sooner or later. Since I’ve turned pro my results have got better with every tournament, so if that trend continues it’s looking pretty good for my next event in Toulouse! I’m feeling more and more comfortable all the time, and if I keep giving myself chances, hopefully I’ll be able to take one of them sooner or later. And at least I’ve now secured a Challenge Tour category for next season, so I’ll have somewhere to play if I don’t make it through Q School.”
Fellow Englishman Ford has also secured his playing privileges for next season’s Challenge Tour after moving up to 53rd in the Rankings.
Ford flew out of the blocks with an outbound nine of 33, and came home in the same score to record the highest finish of his Challenge Tour career.
Olesen, in contrast, was disappointed to have missed out on a second title of the season, but could console himself with a cheque for €18,000 which moved him up to third place in the Rankings.
He said: “I had some good chances on the two par fives, the 15th and 17th, but I missed short putts on both holes. Then on the last I misread the putt, but that’s golf. Second place isn’t a bad result, and hopefully I can get another win in the four tournaments left of the season. I want to finish the season strongly and end the year on a high, then get ready for The European Tour next season.”
After a bright start McLeary’s round unravelled with four bogeys in seven holes from the sixth, and despite a late rally he was unable to finish any higher than fifth.
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