Sam Little completed a stunning hat-trick of European Challenge Tour victories in the space of just four tournaments with a sudden-death play-off victory over Pelle Edberg at the Roma Golf Open.
Little’s third success in five weeks saw him complete a meteoric rise to Number One on the Challenge Tour Rankings with just the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final left to play on the 2011 Schedule.
The Englishman looked to be running out of holes to secure a third victory of the year at the Olgiata Golf Club in Rome but a miraculous holed approach shot from 104 yards for an eagle three on the par five 15th saw him leap into a share of the lead before a chip-in birdie on the 16th allowed him to tie the clubhouse lead of 11 under par set by Edberg just moments before Little signed his card.
Edberg, needing a strong finish to secure his place at the Grand Final, produced the best round of the day – a brilliant six under par 65 – to set up the sudden-death shoot-out but Little eventually proved too strong and secured his hat-trick of titles with a par at the fourth extra hole.
“I’m obviously delighted,” smiled Little as he picked up the cheque for €25,600 that saw him fly past his friend and countryman Tommy Fleetwood at the top of the Rankings.
“Before I won in Russia I wasn’t even in a position to go to the Grand Final, so to be going there as the Number One with three wins in the space of four events is incredible really.
“I didn’t play my best today but hung in there and then it all changed on the 15th where I managed to hole out for eagle and then chipped in at the next for birdie after what was a pretty poor tee shot to be honest.
“It took four holes to get it done in the play-off but it was actually good fun out there. I have known Pelle for a long time and we had a good laugh during the play-off but at the end of the day I am not a charity and I was out there to win and I did that. I am very happy and very proud of myself.”
As a three time winner this season, Little has the option of joining the Challenge Tour’s other triple champion of 2011, Benjamin Hebert, on The European Tour straight away but he will stay focused on the Challenge Tour until after the Grand Final, where he hopes to end the season as Number One.
“I’ll definitely be at the Grand Final to try and defend my position from Tommy. I think it will be a bit of a shoot-out between the two of us at San Domenico unless someone close to us in the Rankings wins the event and we have a bad week, so I will definitely be there.”
The final round of the Roma Golf Open once again highlighted the tiny margins between success and failure on the Challenge Tour as the top 45 players who will now head to San Domenico in search of one of the 20 European Tour cards on offer through the final Rankings were determined.
There are always winners and losers at the Challenge Tour’s penultimate event of the season and, while Edberg and Englishman Lloyd Kennedy were celebrating their ascension into the top 45, commiserations must go to Klas Eriksson and Sam Hutsby who were the two men who fell out of the all-important 45.
Hutsby fell from 44th to 48th place as Edberg rampaged his way from 47th to 26th by picking up the runner-up cheque of €17,600, while Eriksson was knocked out of 45th spot by Kennedy by a mere €492.
There were some significant moves inside the top 45, with Portugal’s José Filipe Lima – who shared third place with Scotland’s Raymond Russell at Olgiata – climbing from 28th to 19th in the Rankings.
Meanwhile, Federico Colombo and Andrea Pavan enjoyed a fine week in their homeland by sharing seventh spot at Olgiata, moving them up to seventh and ninth place respectively.
But the day belonged to the man of the moment Little, who adds the Roma Golf Open to the M2M Russian Federation Cup and the ALLIANZ Golf Open Grand Toulouse trophies as he celebrates moving to the top of the Rankings with just one event remaining on the 2011 Schedule.