Home hero Andrea Pavan edged his final day shoot-out with Tommy Fleetwood at the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final, but it was the young Englishman who ended the season as the Challenge Tour’s Number One, becoming the youngest winner of the Rankings in the Tour’s 22-year history.
On a day of high winds and even higher drama in Puglia, southern Italy, Pavan delighted the locals at San Domenico Golf, his home from home, with a one stroke victory over Fleetwood, whose runner-up finish ensured he would usurp his compatriot Sam Little at the top of the Rankings.
That scenario had looked increasingly unlikely after Fleetwood had opened with a double bogey and added a bogey at the eighth hole. But the 20 year old from Southport is made of stern stuff, picking up birdies at the 11th and 16th holes and a crucial eagle at the 15th to join Pavan on 17 under par.
Neither player’s approach shot found the 18th green, which was playing into the teeth of the wind whipping in off the Adriatic coastline.
But Pavan played a deft chip, and when Fleetwood raced his birdie attempt from the fringe of the green past the hole and missed the return, the 22 year old from Rome was left with the relatively straightforward task of holing out from four feet to take the title and, with it, the winner’s cheque for €56,650.
That moved Pavan up to second place in the Rankings behind Fleetwood, who topped the list with €148,912 – the second highest season’s earnings after Italian Edoardo Molinari in 2009.
Both men were naturally delighted, as were Sweden’s Pelle Edberg (fifth) and the English duo of Andrew Johnston (tied third) and Sam Walker (tied sixth), whose respective displays ensured that they would gatecrash the top 20 at the expense of Branden Grace, José-Filipe Lima and Anthony Snobeck. After bogeying his last two holes the unfortunate Frenchman finished in the unenviable position of 21st place, a mere €801 behind Italian Alessandro Tadini in 20th.
But both Fleetwood and Pavan were all smiles, as they contemplated life on The European Tour next season.
Fleetwood said: “It didn’t look great for me after the bogey on the eighth, and my Dad [Pete] started giving me a little bit of grief. But I had to stick in and grind out a score because winning the Challenge Tour is massive, so if that doesn’t motivate you to try your hardest, then nothing will.
“I battled through it and hit a few good shots coming home, which got me right back into it and put some pressure on Andrea. I had a rush of blood with the putt on the last, but it was great just to put myself into contention to win.
“To be crowned the best player of the year means an awful lot to me. As much as it hurts at the moment to lose I’m still pleased for Andrea, because he’s played well all week. And I’ve got to be delighted with my season overall, because at the start of the year my goal was just to finish in the top 20 of the Rankings, so to finish on top is fantastic.”
Pavan paid tribute to Fleetwood’s battling qualities, and the Italian – who is sponsored by San Domenico Golf – was rightly thrilled to have edged their duel, which seems certain to be repeated on the top tier next term.
He said: “It was really tough out there today. I didn’t really feel in control of my long game, and I struggled in the wind. It was tough to get any momentum going, but I’m very proud of the way I scrambled today, and I really putted well. I made a lot of crucial par putts, and when I holed that one on the last, it was a fantastic feeling. In the end my putting won me the tournament.
“It’s extra special to win here at San Domenico Golf, and to have so many people supporting me was fantastic. I felt like they sucked that putt in on the last! I felt very emotional at the end – to become the first Italian to win the Grand Final, and to do it at the club I’m attached to, is the best feeling in the world. I’m a very happy man.”
Johnston’s closing round of 71 was good enough to finish in a tie for third place on 14 under par, a result which moved the in-form Englishman from 27th to 15th in the final Rankings. Likewise, Edberg and Walker both carded closing rounds of 70 to climb to 18th and 16th respectively in the Rankings.
Highlights of the final day’s play at San Domenico Golf will be aired on Sky Sports 3 at 10.30pm (GMT).