Simon Wakefield secured a return to The European Tour for 2011, shooting a final round 67 to lead the 34 graduates at the Qualifying School on a day of fluctuating emotions in Girona, Spain.
The 36 year old, who finished 63rd in the Challenge Tour Rankings, finished on 21 under par at PGA Catalunya Resort, two strokes clear of Spaniard Carlos Del Moral, with Finn Mikko Korhonen a further two shots back in third.
Wakefield is the second consecutive Englishman called Simon to win the Qualifying School and he will be hoping to follow a similar path to last year’s champion Simon Khan, whose victory 12 months ago led to further glory in The European Tour’s flagship BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Club in May.
“The first goal was to make the cut and then it was to finish top 30, but the position I’ve been in the last couple of days, it was like 2005 again, when I’d lost my card by a few thousand Euros and came out to Qualifying school not feeling like I deserved to be there but put it behind me and finished second,” said Wakefield.
“It was so nice to go one better this time. I’ve had two or three second places on the Tour in recent times and lost in a play-off, and I know this isn’t a tournament effectively but I’ve still had to win and I’ve broken my duck. This is as good as a win for me and I cannot wait to get home.”
Wakefield’s 407 aggregate total for the six round Qualifying School was one stroke lower than Khan’s winning score in 2009 and was secured with a superb birdie on the last, stopping his five iron approach within two feet from the pin.
After starting the final day level with Del Moral, Wakefield pulled clear with a hat-trick of birdies after the turn and while his Spanish rival reduced the margin to one stroke with an eagle on the 15th, the Englishman’s closing birdie put daylight between the pair.
“You watch the top boys, Westwood and McDowell and the rest, and they make birdies down the last to win the tournament and that was going through my head on the last, when if there was one time I needed to pull off a perfect shot it was then,” said Wakefield.
“I hit a perfect five iron which rolled up to about 15 inches, so it’s fantastic and I’m absolutely delighted. It means the world to me.
“I had about four hours’ sleep last night. I knew the mark was going to be about nine or ten under and I was on 16 overnight but I was thinking of the five or six tough holes you really need to concentrate on. The game plan went great.”
Del Moral was equally delighted to secure his card after finishing an agonising 21st in the Challenge Tour Rankings, missing out by a mere €538.
“This is the one week where I really don’t mind finishing second,” said the 25 year old, who gained the third card in 2008. “Near the end of the round I saw that Simon and I were a few shots ahead, so for the first time I thought about really going for it and winning. But I came up just short in the end, and he deserved to win because he played very well today.
“It’s been a long season, and after finishing 21st in the Rankings I thought the year might end in disappointment. But I took a few days off to recover, and then prepared for this week. I’m so proud of the way I played here, and I have to give credit to my fitness coach, because he’s done a great job with me. It’s such a long week, but even today I didn’t feel too tired.”
As always at Qualifying School there were contrasting fortunes further down the leaderboard, with England’s Adam Gee and fourth round leader Florian Fritsch, of Germany, both posting seven under par rounds of 65 to secure their cards.
Englishman Matthew Nixon survived a double bogey on the last as he became the only amateur to gain his card this year in a share of 11th spot, while Dane Andreas Hartø and Frenchman Romain Wattel, who both recently turned professional after winning on the Challenge Tour as amateurs in 2010, also progressed at the first attempt.
Frenchman Alexandre Kaleka and Spaniard Manuel Quiros both signed for rounds of 68 to finish on 10 under par and nine under par – the cut mark for cards – respectively.
There was also joy for Welshman Liam Bond, who gained his European Tour card for the first time on his 16th visit to Qualifying School, while it will be a happy festive period in the Saltman household after Scottish brothers Elliot and Lloyd both graduated.
The Saltmans, who will join Italian’s Edoardo and Francesco Molinari as the only other brothers on Tour, became the first siblings to graduate from the same Qualifying School.
Lloyd, who at 25 is the younger of the pair, carded a 69 to finish in a share of 11th place on 12 under par, while 28 year old Elliot had a nerve-racking wait to see if he would be joining him, eventually making it on the mark of nine under par after a 70.
Elliot said: “Our mum texted me last night and said she hoped either both of us made it or neither of us, so we could travel together again next season. It feels awesome to make it on to The European Tour with my brother and it should be a good Christmas in our house this year after this.”
Lloyd added: “It feels unbelievable, and to have Elliott get his card makes it extra special. I hardly put a foot wrong today – to make only one bogey on that course was pretty good going – so it’s up there with the best rounds of my career, and certainly the most important.
“I’ve been in the top 30 most of the week, and just lost a few places yesterday, but I’m proud of the way I finished the job off and I’m sure my parents are proud of me too. I owe them a lot for the support they’ve shown us, so hopefully this goes some way towards repaying them.”
There was disappointment, however, for the Saltman’s fellow Scotsman Chris Doak, who started the day in 12th place but lipped out on the last hole to miss out by one stroke as he carded a 75.
English amateur Matthew Southgate dropped two shots in his last three holes to drop out of the card places, while Spaniard Jorge Campillo, who had started the sixth and final round in a share of fifth place, posted a nine over par 81 to slip to 55th position and miss out.