Max Kieffer claimed his maiden Challenge Tour title after battling through a tense play-off against home favourite Rahil Gangjee to claim the Gujarat Kensville Challenge, the first event of the season.
The German – who hails from Düsseldorf, the same city as Martin Kaymer – showed nerves of steel with a par at the first extra hole to make amends for his play-off defeat to his compatriot Nicolas Meitinger at last year’s ALLIANZ Challenge de France.
It looked like Gangjee would deliver a second successive home victory, following Gaganjeet Bhullar’s triumph 12 months ago, when he opened up a three shot lead over the field courtesy of a devastating spell of four birdies in five holes after the turn. But Kieffer slowly clawed his way back into the contest and when he birdied the 16th hole with a 30 foot putt and his rival missed his par putt from five feet, the two men were tied on seven under par.
After both players had parred the 18th hole in regulation play they returned to the tee, and when Gangjee found the fairway bunker with his drive it was advantage to the German, who found the heart of the green with his second shot. In contrast, Gangjee’s attempted approach clipped the lip of the bunker and landed in the stream, virtually handing the title to Kieffer, who made a comfortable par to the Indian’s double bogey six.
Kieffer’s cheque for €32,000 gives the 21 one year old an outstanding chance of earning promotion to The European Tour alongside the likes of Kaymer, who graduated from the Challenge Tour in 2006.
“This definitely sets me up for the season very nicely, it’s great to win the first tournament of the year and especially as the prize money is good,” said Kieffer, who finished 57th in the Challenge Tour Rankings in his debut campaign last year.
“It’s so tough to win on the Challenge Tour, so I’m really happy. In the end I was a bit disappointed with my first season on the Tour last year, but this definitely makes up for it. I hadn’t really been in contention since losing the play-off to Nicolas in France last year, so I really enjoyed playing in the last group today. Of course there were a few nerves on the inside, but I was delighted with how I coped mentally.
“Obviously when Rahil went into the water in the play-off I could afford to relax a little bit, but I still expected him to make a five so I had to concentrate. It was a great relief to roll my birdie putt close, and when Rahil missed his bogey putt, I knew the title was mine. It gives me a great chance to finish in the top 20 of the Rankings this year, but there’s still a very long way to go. It’s a shame there isn’t another tournament next week because my confidence will be so high after this win, but at least it means I can have a little celebration tonight!”
For his part, Gangjee took more positives than negatives from his performance at Kensville Golf and Country Club, in Ahmedabad, and the 33 year old believes the experience will serve him well ahead of his second season on the US Nationwide Tour.
He said: “I think it’s going to be my year, I really feel I’m going to win. I’ve played solid, practiced a lot. The mind is much better than it used to be. I think I perform better under pressure now than I used to, because I’ve actually worked hard on coping better when I get into the situation. I’ve talked a lot about this with my coach and mind coach, and they’ve both given me good tips.
“Today it was Max’s day, but I’m sure I’ll have better days in the future. I didn’t really make any bad decisions, I played for the correct parts of the green. If I didn’t make putts it was because I misread the line, which happens. I made a few putts on the back nine and missed a few at critical moments, but overall I played well all week. It’s just that Max played better today, so I’ve no complaints.”
Meanwhile Paul Dwyer, who started the day in tied 11th, climbed eight places to finish in a share of third alongside Andreas Harto of Denmark and Scotland’s Callum Macaulay. Dwyer carded four birdies on the back nine after negotiating the front nine in level par to sign for a best-of-the-day round of 68, which moved him to five under par.
Hartø’s one under par round of 71 included an eagle at the par five sixth, which helped him reach the turn on five under par. He got to six under after a birdie at the 11th hole, but a bogey on the 15th effectively ended his hopes of claiming his third Challenge Tour title.
Macaulay endured a rollercoaster final round of 70 which concluded with three successive birdies to claim his highest finish since he came second at the Madeira Islands Open during his debut campaign on The European Tour in 2009.