Daniel Denison claimed the first win of his professional career at the ECCO Tour Championship presented by Thomas Björn and Mercedes Benz, completing a remarkable comeback from a horrific injury sustained four years ago.
The Englishman, who broke both legs in a car accident shortly after competing in The 2007 Open Championship, began the day one shot off Alessandro Tadini’s lead but fired a superb 69 to finish on eight under par 208, one stroke clear of Frenchman Charles-Edouard Russo at Lübker Golf Resort in Denmark.
Denison picked up the first prize of €25,600 for winning the weather-affected tournament, which was reduced to 54 holes, and the cheque moved him up from 13th to second place in the European Challenge Tour Rankings, strengthening his hopes of securing a European Tour card for 2012.
But more than the prize money, the victory represented a huge personal triumph for Denison following the career-threatening injuries he has worked so hard to recover from over the past four years.
“I don’t know what to think yet, it’s a bit surreal really,” said the 26 year old, whose previous best finish this year came at the duel ranking SAINT OMER OPEN presented by Neuflize OBC, where he came tied second.
“I never really doubted that I would be able to play again and it was just a case of being patient and staying positive and thankfully I’ve come through it.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet that I’ve won but I’m sure tonight I’ll sit down for dinner and a bottle of champagne and I can celebrate it.
“I hit the ball really well today, the best I’ve hit it in a long time, and I holed some good par putts when I needed to, took my chances when I needed to and played solid. It’s been tough few years for me following the injuries but this makes it all worth it.”
Weather had played havoc with the tournament, with a lightning delay on Wednesday and then heavy rain wiping out play on Friday meaning the tournament was reduced to 54 holes, but the sun eventually came out to play on Saturday and Denison was in sparkling form.
He posted birdies on the second, eighth, 10th, 12th and the 17th on the way to his three under par round.
While a three putt for bogey on the final green meant he didn’t finish on a flourish, the 26 year old soon had reason to celebrate when his only remaining contender, Denmark’s Lasse Jensen, finished with a double bogey on the 18th.
Denison looked back on a crucial par putt on the 13th hole as the key point in his round, where he over-cooked his chip and was faced with a tough 15 foot uphill putt to avoid bogey.
“That putt was to hold the round together really,” he explained. “I had just made a couple of birdies and had a couple of tough holes coming up so if I’d have missed that it would have been a lot more difficult.”
The Englishman joins a growing group of players from the International Sports Management Group to win in 2011, including Major winners Charl Schwarzel, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke, and Denison admitted adding his name to that list had played on his mind recently.
“I’ve been thinking about that ISM record and it seemed about right for one of us on the Challenge Tour to pick up a first win of the year and thankfully it was me!,” said Denison. “ My goal for the start of the year was to get into the top ten on the Challenge Tour and now I’m in there I want to kick on and get that second victory.”
Russo missed a birdie chance on the last which would have secured a place in a play-off, as he finished in second place on seven under par, meaning he narrowly failed to join compatriots Edouard Dubois and Benjamin Hebert as Challenge Tour winners this season.
“I was hitting the driver really well, I’m really happy with that and I hit 16 greens in regulation so it was a good performance altogether,” said Russo.
Another Englishman completed the top three as Benn Barham’s 71 meant he finished in third place on five under par. Home favourite Jensen had to settle for a share of fourth place on four under par, tied with English pair Matthew Baldwin and Steve Tiley and Swiss Julien Clément but can console himself with the honour of being the leading Dane.