Andrew McArthur held his nerve with a commanding display to claim the second European Challenge Tour title of his career at the inaugural D+D Real Slovakia Challenge, fending off the challenge of several contenders with a flawless four under par final round of 68.
That closing round, which included four birdies, meant that the Scot carded just one bogey in four days over the pristine but challenging Legend course at the stunning Penati Golf Resort, earning a wire-to-wire victory in the process.
McArthur, who becomes the first winner of a major men’s professional golf tournament in the eastern European nation, led the field by a single shot heading into the final round but knew he would have a big job on his hands to close out the title, as perfect conditions yielded a flurry of low scores early on.
But the 35 year old threw down the gauntlet right from the off with consecutive birdies in the opening two holes, while his playing partner Sam Hutsby bogeyed the second to briefly widen the gap at the top to four shots.
McArthur carded seven pars to reach the turn in two under and never let his guard down thereafter as two more birdies earned him a two-shot victory and a first Challenge Tour title since his Challenge de España triumph in 2008.
“It feels great,” said the Glaswegian, who finished with a 21 under par total. “It’s been a long time since the last one. I knew when I got in position that I could do it.
“I got a couple of wins on mini-tours recently so I had no doubts I could play well under pressure, but you still have to do it.
“I played rock solid today. I'm very proud of the fact that I didn’t drop a shot all day. I holed a 15-footer at the first and I thought, ‘at last’! I didn’t sink many after that but my distance putting was good when I got it in the wrong areas, I could cosy it up to two or three feet.
“Sam missed a short putt at 13 and I thought that gave me a bit of breathing space with him but then I saw that Oliver Farr was 19 under. Then Sam birdied 14 and eagled 15 with a massive putt.
“My eagle putt was shorter and although I didn’t hole it, I hit a good putt. I tried to be sensible then on the last couple of holes so I'm delighted to have closed it out.”
An emotional McArthur admitted he had doubted himself after a difficult start to the season which included six successive missed cuts but it was a stunning four under 67 in the third round of the Alstom Open de France at Le Golf National which gave him the belief this week in Slovakia.
“I got a lot of confidence from that Friday in France,” said the 35 year old. “I played a really good round of golf there after a five over first round. That’s a very tough golf course so I thought, it can’t be a million miles away if I can get it round that course in that score.
“I’ve just been trying to find positives anywhere I can to try convince myself I’m not that bad. This win just changes everything.
“There were some dark moments at the start of this year. There was missed cut after missed cut and it’s not fun, expensive too.
“I’ve got a young family at home too, and they were trying to convince me that I'm still good enough but at times I haven’t believed it. It’s just good to come through the other side and everything’s good now.
“I’ll be aiming for a couple more wins now. The way I played there under pressure, not making mistakes and having confidence in my game, I’m so happy with how I performed.”
Hutsby, meanwhile, was happy to concede that the better man won but was left ruing a double-bogey at the par four tenth. The 25 year old was still pleased with his game all week and feels he now has the confidence to go and win one in the near future.
“That double-bogey took the wind out of my sails a little bit,” said the former Walker Cup player, who signed for a final round 69 to finish runner-up on 19 under par. “I had just got a birdie at nine and hit a lovely tee shot at ten but my second shot just wasn’t a good strike and went in the water.
“I bounced back with a birdie at the next and as soon as I holed that eagle putt that gave me massive confidence. Hopefully I’ll need putts like that in a similar situation again.
“Andrew played so solid all day and he just didn’t give me anything. That makes it a lot tougher. He was forcing me to chase and with so much to play for, you’re trying to force it. It was just nice to have those good feelings of coming down the back nine and it’s just been a really enjoyable week.”
Welshman Oliver Farr claimed third place outright after a superb final round 67, while 2010 Challenge Tour Number One Alvaro Velasco recorded a two under 70 to claim his best finish of the season, finishing in fourth on 17 under.