Marco Crespi claimed his first Challenge Tour victory at the Telenet Trophy in Belgium, where he cruised to victory with a four under par round of 67 thanks to an incredible run of four successive birdies on the back nine.
The Italian was the overnight leader after the second and third rounds and, while he admitted to struggling with nerves on the penultimate day, he overcame them with aplomb when it really mattered.
After a level par front nine at Ravenstein Royal Golf Club of Belgium, in Tervuren outside Brussels, Crespi fell a shot behind Carlos Aguilar but birdies on the 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th moved the 33 year old four shots clear going down the final stretch.
A bogey on the 17th hole did not unsettle his nerves and when he holed a seven foot putt for birdie at the last to finish three shots clear on 14 under, it was met by rapturous applause from the crowds as he sealed his first Challenge Tour victory.
“I worked hard for this win,” said an emotional Crespi, who won in Belgium on a satellite tour last year and was playing the Telenet Trophy on a sponsor's invite. “I tried and I tried for many years and now it finally came and I'm really happy about that.
“My short game has improved but I think it was my mentality which has changed the most. I built a lot of confidence in the last few years.
“I bogeyed the first but I tried to stay focussed, just play shot by shot, don’t look at the leaderboard and finally I started to play well on the back nine. I made four birdies in a row so when I saw the leaderboard after that on the 17th, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
“I will go to Spain next week and start again but I will just try to keep it going. Top 20 in the Rankings is definitely my focus for the year and I think my game is in the right shape now to do that.”
Aguilar also carded a four under par round of 67 after opening with two successive birdies and, while he dropped a shot on the third hole, another three birdies saw him reach the turn as the leader of the tournament.
The Spaniard was left to rue a couple of missed chances on the back nine though, and a bogey on the 15th hole meant his chances fell by the wayside despite finishing with a birdie and he finished runner-up on 11 under par.
“On the front nine I felt I was in with a chance to win but Marco had a really great back nine so I had no chance,” said the 29 year old, who only qualified for the tournament thanks to a top ten finish in the ALLIANZ Open Côtes d’Armor Bretagne two weeks ago.
“My goal then was to try and finish second and I got that so I’m happy with that. I missed some putts on the 12th, 13th and 14th and that has cost me but I have no complaints. It’s just my second tournament of the year and I finished tied fourth in France so that is a good start to the year.”
José-Filipe Lima, playing on a course that holds some of the greatest memories of his golfing career, finished a shot further back in third place.
Having carded a course record 65 as an amateur on the pristine parkland track and also beating Major winner Graeme McDowell in a match-play tournament there, he continued that run of form with a four under par 67.
Birdies at the second, fourth, seventh and ninth holes were offset by bogeys at the sixth and eighth but when he gained shots at the tenth and 13th holes, he was right in contention.
A bogey-birdie finish wasn’t enough, however, as the Portuguese claimed his best finish since the Roma Golf Open 2011.
“I was really happy with my game today,” said the European Tour winner, “I started the day with a really positive attitude, to just score as many birdies as possible and I had a lot of birdies.
“I did look at the leaderboard and thought if I had a few more birdies on the back nine a win would be possible but that’s golf. You try and sometimes you don’t hole the putts but it was nice to have a birdie on the final hole and finish top three.
“It was 12 or 13 years ago when I equalled the course record here. It’s easy to remember because I had 17 putts and I think that was a world record so it was quite funny.”Alexandre Kaleka of France and Bjorn Åkesson of Sweden finished tied fourth on nine under, while earlier in the day, Eduardo De La Riva claimed the new course record at Ravenstein Royal Golf Club of Belgium as the Spaniard carded a seven under par 64.