François Calmels fired a sizzling 11 birdies in a final-round 65 to come from behind and win his second Challenge Tour title of the season on an eventful last day at the D+D Real Czech Challenge Open.
The Frenchman, who began the day three shots off the lead at Golf & Spa Kunetická Hora, finished with an aggregate score of 22 under par, three clear of the English trio of Robert Dinwiddie, overnight leader Adam Gee and Sam Walker, to pick up a cheque for €25,600 and with it move to second in the 2013 Challenge Tour Rankings.
The Parisian’s stunning seven under par 65 - that included seven birdies in eight holes from the ninth - was not only the lowest final round by a winner this season but also the largest comeback on a Sunday seen this campaign.
It was an action-packed final day all round, meanwhile, as American Brooks Koepka climbed 36 places up the leaderboard into a tie for seventh thanks to a magnificent course record 62 that featured two eagles and six birdies, while Italy’s Nicolo Ravano holed out at the par three 17th to win a Peugeot 3008.
But, ultimately, the day belonged to Calmels.
The 31 year old fell further behind after mixing two bogeys with two birdies from the second as Gee solidified his lead with two gains on the front nine, but as the Londoner made his opening bogey of the day at the tenth Calmel swooped with a simply staggering run of golf.
After making birdie at the long seventh, Calmels fired six birdies in succession from the ninth – including a 40-foot putt at the 11th, a 35-footer at the 13th and a host of others from over 12 feet – to take control as Gee parred his way in.
And despite bogeys at the 15th and 17th bringing the field back within two, Calmels was calmness personified in holing out for an 11th birdie of the day at the last to secure an impressive three-shot triumph.
“This is totally different to my first win because there I was leading and just built from there, whereas today I started quite far back,” said Calmels, who also triumphed in April at the Challenge de Madrid.
“I was struggling a lot at the start but then during that birdie stretch I played incredible and made every putt. I saw that guys were four shots better than me during the front nine but I kept telling myself, ‘You’re playing good!’ and I knew that if I could start holing some putts I could put up a fight.
“Out of all the birdies I was most pleased with the one at the last after bogeying the 17th and knowing I only had a two-shot lead. It wasn’t an easy putt and I was feeling the pressure so that was a nice way to finish.”
Much like Koepka, who currently heads the Challenge Tour Rankings after two wins of his own this season, Calmels is now within one victory of automatic promotion to The European Tour, this after struggling to 122nd and 116th place finishes in the money list in the previous two years.
He credits much of his return to form to girlfriend Jade Schaeffer, a professional golfer on the Ladies European tour for whom he caddied at the Ladies German Open last week, and identified a more philosophical approach to the game being at the heart of his success this year.
“It’s been a very good start to the season,” he continued, “but I’m still mainly just looking to finish top ten at the finish. If I manage to win a third one then great but I’m not going to get too caught up in it.
“It is surprising, though. I have had terrible seasons the last couple of years and so I have been very sad. This year I have tried to make golf a happy thing again; if you make bogey, you make bogey.
“Golf is purely a mental game; if you have a good feeling then you play well. My girlfriend Jade has helped a lot since the Qualifying School with this and when I was with her last week I would say the same things to her that I have said to myself all week.
“What that is is a secret, maybe I will tell you if I win a third one!”
Despite seeing his 54-hole lead vanquished by the on-form Calmels, Gee, who shot a one under par 71 on Sunday, was still pleased with a good week’s work.
“I never really hit it close enough today,” reflected Gee, who had chances for birdie on the final three holes. “I putted great for three days, too, so it’s no great surprise it cooled down at some point.
“But the way I’ve been playing if someone had said I was going to finish tied second I would have bitten their hand off, I can take an awful lot from this week.”
While Walker shot an excellent 66 for his share of the runner-up spot, Dinwiddie went one better, posting a seven under par 65 that included four birdies in a row from the 13th.
He said: “After taking a break away from golf earlier this year and going travelling for a while, it feels great to be back up there even though I came up a bit short this time.
“I think part of the reason I’m competing again is because I am feeling a bit more love for the game again so it’s all good.”