By Nick Totten, europeantour.com
At PGA Catalunya Resort
Sometimes the greatest sporting stories are those that would be turned away by Hollywood producers the world over for being too fanciful, but as the curtain closed on yet another 108-hole European Tour Qualifying School Final Stage marathon, it was very much a case of lights, camera, action, and of course, Bouniol.
The Frenchman was one of the more dramatic stories in yet another thrilling instalment of the season-ending endurance test, in which the dream factory offered golden tickets to 27 Race to Dubai hopefuls, while there were also tales of heart-break and near misses once again in Girona.
Agony and ecstasy are always the overriding emotions at the heart of the thrilling tournament in north eastern Spain, but for Bouniol it was very much a case of the latter as a closing birdie under the utmost pressure saw him claim the final card on offer in 2014.
For much of the afternoon it had looked like the Texas-based 27 year old’s invitation to dine at European golf’s top table was a virtual certainty, as he turned in 34 strokes to be three inside the eventual qualifying mark of seven under par.
Two double bogeys coming home, however, including one at the penultimate hole on which he was required to hit three balls from the tee before finding the first in an unplayable lie, had looked like costing the always genial Bouniol his place amongst the game’s elite.
Cue a stern talking to, from the man himself, and he was left standing on the final tee knowing only a birdie would do. What came next was a perfect drive, a short iron from 152 yards and, when he needed it most,a ten foot putt that secured a maiden campaign on The European Tour in 2015.
“I didn’t make a putt all day,” said Bouniol, whose relief was clear to see on the last as he gave his closing birdie putt the fist pump it deserved to card a one over par 73.
“I played incredible on the front nine with only tap in birdies, so I stood over that putt on 18 and said to myself ‘you’re not a bad putter and you’ve not made a putt today, so the odds of making this one are in your favour, as you can’t spend a whole day without making a putt.’
“It’s just incredible, as when I left the 17th green I was feeling right at the bottom and I stepped on the tee and I said to my caddie Mikey ‘OK man, this is it, I don’t have a choice, it’s birdie or nothing.’
“I didn’t even know if that was enough to make it, as I saw on the board the mark was seven under, but to make it happen today, especially after the bogey at the 16th and the double at the 17th, it is incredible. I’m speechless.
“It’s all the more meaningful too, that under the hardest adversity and having not made a putt all day, that I was standing over it at the 18th knowing what it was for – either I would be on Tour or I would be back to what I’ve done all year. I told myself to take a chance, and it’s incredible it went in, I’m so happy.”
As well as the drama of Bouniol’s closing birdie, there was also elation for American Daniel Woltman, who carded a closing gain of his own at his last – this time at the ninth – to earn his own maiden sojourn amongst the great and good of The European Tour in 2015.
The Wisconsin native had only just scraped into the final 36 holes after making the four round cut on the number, but consecutive rounds of 69 when it mattered most meant the man who was once in the top ten of the World Amateur Golf Rakings will now be mixing it with the best players on the planet next year.
“It took a lot of work to get here, coming through all three stages to get this card, and I’m really excited right now, but the work has just begun, that’s for sure,” said the 28 year old, who had to wait over an hour to learn his fate, after he converted from five feet for a closing three.
“It wasn’t even over when I holed my final putt today. I made the cut on the number just to make the cut and played really solid the last two days, then I birdied my 108th hole.
“I thought seven would be good enough at the start of the day, but then it moved up to eight under, and when I was walking up my last hole I saw it on the board. So I said, let’s just roll this putt in, make birdie and hope seven is good enough, and I did.
“I’ve seen Brooks Koepka and Peter Uihlein and those American guys and the success they’ve had, and heard how much fun they’ve had too, and that was one of the big reasons I wanted to come and do this Q-School.
“I’m thankful that I’m going to have that opportunity to play alongside some of the best players in the world and see some of the coolest countries and cities around. It’s going to be fun.”
European Tour winner Andrew Dodt was also one of the better stories from the sixth and final day in Girona, as the 2010 Avantha Masters victor carded a five under par 67 to finish tenth and earn a return to The European Tour, having started the day outside the top 25.
Fellow Australian Jason Scrivener also hurtled through the field on Thursday, climbing 31 places with a closing 66, to finish in a tie for 18th and earn a maiden season in The Race to Dubai.
Italy’s Alessandro Tadini carded a 68 in the sixth round to get his card on the mark at seven under, alongside Bouniol and Woltman, while six players filled the dreaded places one shot shy of glory.
Portugal’s Ricardo Gouveia (71), Americans Wes Homan (71) and Sihwan Kim (68), European Tour winner Peter Lawrie (71) and Finland’s Jaako Makitalo (72) all finished in a share of 28th after 108 holes.
Alongside them was Frenchman Sebastien Gros (72), whose tale of woe was perhaps the most heartbreaking, as he carded three bogeys in a row to finish his round and also miss by a stroke.
There was also disappointment for PGA Catalunya Resort specialist Carlos Del Moral, who 12 months ago was celebrating top honours at Q-School, but this year fell to a closing 77 to miss by three in a tie for 36th place thanks to a trio of consecutive double bogeys from the fourth on the final day.
Despite his astounding 58 round the Tour Course in round four, there was also disappointment for America’s John Hahn as the Ohio native finished in a share of 50th place following a level par 72 in the final round.