By Neil Ahern, europeantour.com
at PGA Catalunya Resort
Carlos Del Moral romped to a five-shot victory at The European Tour’s Qualifying School Final Stage on a dramatic day of twists and turns at PGA Catalunya Resort, where 27 players from 15 countries earned their places on The 2014 Race to Dubai.
It was another stunning round over the Stadium Course, a five under par 67, which sealed glory for the Spaniard, who has now qualified from the Final Stage four times in the past six years.
While he was storming to the title, though, there was plenty more drama unfolding further down the leaderboard.
The childhood dreams of many were realised after an enthralling finale to the gruelling six-round marathon in Girona, north-eastern Spain, while others were left disappointed when the cut-mark for European Tour promotion eventually dropped at nine under par.
Of those who made the grade, there were five European Tour winners - Scotsman Alastair Forsyth, who endured a roller-coaster two over par round of 74 which included three double-bogeys and five birdies before making it on the mark, Swedes Mikael Lundberg and Patrik Sjöland, as well as England’s James Morrison and Estanislao Goya of Argentina.
Some of the big names to narrowly miss out included former Ryder Cup player Oliver Wilson, who was two shots short of the mark, and former European Tour winners Oliver Fisher of England and Welshman Bradley Dredge, who missed by three and four shots respectively.
Ten of those who qualified will be playing their rookie seasons in the top tier of European golf next season, including a number of former amateur prodigies such as 2013 Walker Cup player Kevin Phelan of Ireland and Belgium’s Thomas Pieters, who impressed in the American collegiate circuit.
Following the recent success stories on The European Tour of Americans Peter Uihlein and Brooks Koepka, a record four USA natives also qualified, three of which were under the age of 25.
But it was Del Moral who took the plaudits after three successive sub-68 rounds over the Neil Coles and Angel Gallardo-designed Stadium Course and he was delighted to become the first Spanish winner of the Final Stage since Carlos Rodiles in 2006.
“It feels very special to be the winner of this event,” said the 28 year old, who finished the week 26 under par. “It’s such a long week and after the year I have gone through it is a pay-off for all the hard work.
“Sometimes you feel like it’s all a waste but it is showing now and hopefully I can keep up the good work for the next few weeks in South Africa and for the 2014 season.”
Del Moral endured a difficult season on The European Tour last year, making just four cuts in 16 events, but he feels like his imperious victory this week will help him wipe the slate clean and start afresh, beginning at next week’s season-opening South African Open Championship hosted by the City of Ekurhuleni.
“I'm done with 2013 now,” said the Valencia native. “I want to erase the whole year in terms of results but I think I have done some great work on the basics of my swing and my mind so I think 2014 will be different and I hope to keep up the good work.”
Fabrizio Zanotti finished runner-up after a four under par final round of 68 left him on 21 under for the tournament while Italian Marco Crespi finished six shots further back in third place on 15 under.
Further down the leaderboard, Phelan provided one of the biggest success stories of the final round after the 22 year old, who won two out of three points at the most recent Walker Cup in September and made the cut at this year’s US Open Championship, climbed from outside the cut mark on day six to earn a rookie season on The European Tour.
He sealed his place at the top table of European golf in some style, firing a stupendous approach at the par four 18th to five feet before sinking the putt for birdie to rubber-stamp the 17th card.
The Waterford native revealed afterwards that some advice from three-time Major winner Padraig Harrington played a big part in his rapid rise from the amateur game, having been the subject of so much hype and expectation.
“I have been told a couple of times not to read anything that has been written about me,” said Phelan, the only player to have jumped from outside the cut mark on day six to claim a card. “I haven’t done that in a couple of years now so I don’t really pay any attention to expectations that are put on me, just what I put on myself.
“Harrington said it to me a while ago and my coach Mark McCumber tells me all the time. It definitely helped a lot.
“Padraig is definitely a big inspiration for me. I played a practice round with him at the US Open the first time I played it and at the Irish Open in Killarney and again at Carton House this year. He’s been very nice and very helpful and I've always looked up to him so it’s nice to get some good feedback from him. I look forward to joining him on The European Tour.”