Olympics-bound New Zealander Ryan Fox equalled the Galgorm Castle Golf Club course record as he stormed to victory at the Tayto Northern Ireland Open in partnership with Ulster Bank.
His nine under par 62 equalled Joakim Lagergren’s score in the 2014 edition of the Northern Ireland Open, but Fox threatened to go one better down the closing stretch as he secured his second European Challenge Tour title.
Starting the day on ten under par, three shots behind the lead, the Kiwi wasted no time in making up the deficit as he registered a birdie and an eagle on the first two holes to draw level.
Four more birdies followed on the front nine as he made the turn in just 29 shots.
Fox made four birdies in the next six holes, but a bogey on 16 scuppered his hopes of shooting a round of 59 and so emulating the achievement of Nicolo Ravano in the recent Fred Olsen Challenge de España.
However, a 19 under par total was enough to secure victory by four shots from overnight leader Dylan Frittelli (69), Dominic Foos, Max Orrin and Bernd Ritthammer (all 65).
In so doing, Fox became the 15th different winner from 15 events on the 2016 Challenge Tour Schedule.
“To be honest, I played exactly how I played all week,” said Fox. “But I got really hot with the putter. I played solid from tee to green the whole week, and today I left myself a lot of makeable putts.
“It got hot and it was nice to keep seeing the ball go in. I thought I was flirting with the magical number for a while, but a three-putt on 16 didn’t help that.
“My start was a bit better than Saturday; I was one over after those two holes. I holed a nice putt on the first and I was perfect on the last on the green. Yesterday, I went too far right, but I hit a great shot today and rolled in a nice putt from eight or nine feet.”
Winner of the Le Vaudreuil Golf Challenge in 2015, Fox had previously played in four Challenge Tour events in 2016, finishing second, tied fourth, tied seventh and tied 18th.
As he prepares to represent his country in Rio at the 2016 Olympic Games, Fox said he could not have asked for better preparation for the tournament, which starts in less than two weeks.
“I couldn’t have played any better and it’s nice to go into the Olympics with some form,” he said. “It’s always a good feeling to win.
“It’s hard to get your first win and sometimes it seems harder to keep doing it. It’s great to be a two-time winner on the Challenge Tour and build on the experience I had last year.
“It’ll be great in Rio, I’m looking forward to being part of the New Zealand team; we don’t get the opportunity very often in golf.
“There are three Challenge Tour players and a lot of ex-Challenge Tour players there. It shows the quality of this tour, and hopefully I can join the upper echelon of the guys who have graduated from the Challenge Tour.”
Defending champion Clément Sordet carded a final round 68 to finish in a share of sixth place alongside Wil Besseling on 14 under par.
Tournament host Michael Hoey closed with a round of 68 to take eighth place on 13 under par, two strokes clear of European Tour champions Tom Lewis and Damien McGrane.