At the foot of the majestic Cairngorm Mountains, Andrew Johnston scaled new career heights as the Englishman stormed to an imperious three-shot victory to claim a maiden European Challenge Tour title at the Scottish Hydro Challenge hosted by Macdonald Hotels and Resorts.
The 25 year old was untouchable as he provided the performance of a true champion, carding a five under par 66 which included an eagle at the par four second hole to leave the rest of the field in his wake.
Johnston began the day with a two-shot lead at the picturesque Macdonald Spey Valley Golf Club and, having started with a steady par, he holed out with a 58 degree wedge from 83 yards at the par four second hole, admitting that he then began to feel it was his day.
Johnston’s playing partner Moritz Lampert did stage an almighty comeback on the back nine to finish in a share of second place alongside Australian Terry Pilkadaris, having at one point fallen nine shots off the lead. But seven birdies on the way home was not enough to even get as Johnston, affectionately known on tour as ‘beef’, continued to pepper the pins.
Back to back birdies at the eighth and ninth were followed by two more at the 13th and 14th and while he lost a ball and dropped a shot at the 17th, that did not derail the 2011 Challenge Tour graduate as he closed out his first victory with clinical precision.
“I'm so happy,” said the Londoner, who picked up a cheque for €40,000 and moved to third in the Challenge Tour Rankings. “I wanted to get off to a good start and I thought if I got to one under after three or four holes that would be good, but I was delighted with that eagle.
“I really enjoyed myself out there but you have to, this is why we do what we do, for moments like that. I knew if I didn’t make any mistakes I would be close but Moritz was giving me a hard time on the back nine and I thought, ‘just keep playing your game and stay in there’.
“It’s such a nice feeling, to have a little putt for a win. You watch other people do it every week and you want to do it so it was great to finally do it.”
Johnston was in tears afterwards and, having battled back from a shoulder injury which meant he could not play for five months last year, he admitted it was a huge moment in his career as he targets a return to The European Tour, having played in The 2012 Race to Dubai.
“I’ve worked so hard over the last year and you’ve just got to keep that work rate up because everyone’s doing it. You've got to keep pushing and prepare the best you can for every tournament and that’s the key – the scores will take care of themselves then.
“The injury was horrible. Having five or six months without playing and then having a tough time to even keep my Challenge Tour card last year, it was difficult. But the injury was a turning point too because when I did get through it, I made a few adjustments and worked harder. It changed everything.
“The goal was to get my European Tour card back and I have to push on from here and continue the hard work.”
Lampert, meanwhile, was delighted with his performance on the back nine and, while the German will have to wait for a third victory which would earn automatic European Tour promotion, he was happy to see his friend Johnston finally clinch a first title.
“I was quite nervous going into the day to be honest because I knew what I was playing for,” said the 22 year old, who signed for a four under par final round of 67. “I made a couple of three putts early on but then I just started to play well again and got it going.
“I suppose I've achieved one goal in that I know I have enough money to get on The European Tour at the end of the year at least, so that’s good enough at the moment.
“Andrew played so well though. When you start with a two shot lead and then hole out on the second hole it gives you confidence. I'm happy for him – he’s a nice guy, a good friend of mine, and he really deserved this win.”
Pilkadaris also carded a four under 67 to earn his best finish on the Challenge Tour while Oliver Farr, a winner already this year at the Turkish Airlines Challenge, climbed to fifth in the Rankings courtesy of a tied fourth place finish, alongside Englishman Jack Senior.