Spain’s Jordi Garcia Pinto claimed his maiden European Challenge Tour title after an intensely dramatic finale at the Barclays Kenya Open, finishing one shot clear of Tim Sluiter.
It was a thrilling final round from start to finish at the sun-drenched Karen Country Club in Nairobi, and despite standing on the 16th tee with a four shot lead, Garcia Pinto still had to endure a tense finish as Sluiter was afforded an eagle putt at the last to take it to a play-off.That came after the Spaniard followed up an eagle at the 15th with back-to-back bogeys to narrow his lead back to two.
Garcia Pinto caught his chip heavy and left it short of the green, before his second attempt landed a just short of the hole to leave an easy par putt but, more importantly, leave Sluiter with a chance to take it to extra holes.The man from The Netherlands, however, slid his putt to the left of the hole and could only manage a birdie, leaving his playing partner with a tap-in in for a par, a two under par round of 69 and a first Challenge Tour victory.
“I don’t know what to say,” said an emotional Garcia Pinto, who turned 23 on the opening day of the tournament. “I cannot believe it, I am in tears. The whole week was just incredible. I played a really high level of golf and my short game was incredible.“Even when I was playing well I couldn’t relax because Tim was playing so well. It was really tight most of the way around but I just enjoyed playing with my friend. I would have been happy whoever won but I'm obviously a little happier it was me!”
The Girona man, who recently sat his final exam of a law degree, made the decision last November to relinquish the opportunity of gaining a European Tour card through Qualifying School - instead opting to play out a full season on the Challenge Tour - and he was delighted to reap the benefits of that decision so early in the 2013 season.He said: “I think the players that get European Tour categories through the Challenge Tour play better than the ones who go through Q-School. I don’t want to arrive on The European Tour when I’m not ready and spending time on the Challenge Tour is a great experience, you learn a lot and when you reach the top you are ready.”
Sluiter, meanwhile, was disappointed to come so close after a one under par final round 70 but - in keeping with the impeccable, sporting spirit which the two players showed all weekend - was quick to congratulate Garcia Pinto.“It was such a great experience to be honest”, said the 23 year old. “Obviously I could have won thing and I was disappointed not to put more pressure on Jordi but I was hitting really great shots, especially towards the end.
“Jordi played great and I’m happy for him. His short game was unbelievable - he’s a real Spaniard. The crowd, the Kenyan president coming around for the last six holes and enjoying it with Jordi - it was all just incredible.”Scotland’s George Murray finished in third place on nine under par after a final round of 69, while former European Tour winner José-Filipe Lima equalled the course record of 65 to climb to fourth position on eight under.