Scotsman Raymond Russell went some way in making up for a season wrecked by illness by winning the Challenge Provincia di Varese for his maiden Challenge Tour title.
Having earned his card via the 2010 Challenge Tour Rankings, Russell played just one event on the 2011 International Schedule as a debilitating virus kept him out of action all year, and he has had to return to the Challenge Tour this season to start all over again.
But in his seventh start of 2012 on the second tier, he emerged victorious at Golf Club Varese in northern Italy, a final round three under par 67 taking him to 17 under par, one shot ahead of Argentine Daniel Vancsik, who produced a magnificent round of 64 to pile on the pressure.
Russell began the day three shots clear, and a birdie at the first helped settle the nerves before he picked up another shot at the fourth. A bogey at the 14th gave the surging Vancsik hope, but he birdied the 15th and parred his way home, calmly holing a four footer at the last for victory.
“I felt pretty good standing over it,” said Russell, who played on The European Tour between 1996, the year he won the Air Frances Cannes Open, and 2006. “I made a nice putt at the 15th from about six feet for par, so I didn’t feel like I was going to miss.
“I played pretty well. I missed two or three really good chances on the front nine, which you can’t do. I got a break at the 11th when I went right into the trees but came out, then I went into the bunker but managed to save par. My bunker play has been great all week. I got up and down from the sand three times on the back nine – once for par and twice for birdies.
“You’re always trying to win. That’s why we practise hard. Finishing second or third is nice but we’re trying to win every week. Does it make up for missing last season? Not really, because it’s one tournament and I missed a whole year. But it helps.
“I’ve felt it coming the last few weeks. I played nicely in Saint-Omer for a spell and in Madeira I played well. I had an old caddie friend who caddies for Grégory Havret on my bag and he told me to just keep doing what I was doing and it’ll turn. So it’s been coming, and it’s nice to finish it off.
“It’s nice to lead from the front and see it through. I led from day one and it would’ve been easy to fall by the wayside. It’s not easy to see it through, but I’ve done it.”
Vancsik was disappointed to fall just short, but overall was happy with his performance.
He said: “I played really well today and putted brilliantly. I was trying not to watch the scores, but just focused on my game to try to win. Four shots is a lot to make up, and I knew Raymond was playing really well as I played with him yesterday. It has been a good week for me and I’m pleased with the way I have played.”
Italians Marco Crespi and Alessandro Tadini, playing at his home club, finished tied third on 12 under par, while Gary Lockerbie had a final round of 65 to finish in a tie for fifth and leapfrog Magnus A Carlsson into top spot in the Challenge Tour Rankings.