American Gerry Norquist once sold insurance for a living. From now on the European Tour will be his office after he captured the Benson & Hedges Malaysian Open, presented by Carlsberg, at Saujana Golf and Country Club.
Norquist, 36, from Arizona, fired a closing 71 for an eight-under-par total of 280 to win the first co-sanctioned tournament in Malaysia by three strokes from Germany’s Alex Cejka and another American, Bob May.
The new champion, who had won the event six years earlier, immediately signed the appropriate forms to become a member of the European Tour thanks to his impressive victory.
Until now, his only experience of the European scene was a less than memorable visit to the Qualifying School at Montpellier in 1991 when he was struck down by flu and failed to make the grade.
He admitted: "After Montpellier I vowed I would never play the European Tour, but here I am as a fully exempt Member of that Tour and with tremendous opportunities. I’ve never really seen that part of the world and I’m looking forward to learning what Europe is all about.
"I feel very privileged to be part of the European Tour. If I am presented with an opportunity to play at a higher level I’d be foolish not to look it straight in the eye and meet the challenge."
Norquist was the pacemaker from the halfway stage after firing two rounds of 67. He retained a one-stroke lead despite a shaky 77 on Saturday, then steadied the ship superbly on the final day with a 71 which gave him the cushion of a three-shot win.
He added: "I set a target of four under for the weekend. I figured that would be enough to win. If someone had told me I could shoot two over on the weekend I’d have said they were crazy."
Norquist had slipped over the first three holes of the third round, which he bogeyed. However a majestic up and down from a bunker at the 18th, to retain his lead, helped him sleep more easily before the final day.
Next time around, he covered the opening stretch in one under par to force his way ahead of Ed Fryatt and American Shaun Micheel, his nearest challengers at the start of the day.
Cejka finished leading European at five-under-par and he admitted: "I’m happy to see my name back up on the leaderboard - but a little higher would be even nicer. Still, it’s a good start to the season to be tenth, 13th and joint third. I’m pleased."
Considering Cejka began the week still suffering from a problem with a disc at the base of his spine, it was a courageous effort by the former Volvo Masters champion, who is now showing signs of a return to form after two indifferent seasons.
Less content was Harrington, who was disturbed by a clicking camera shutter as he faced a two and a half foot birdie putt on the last to join May and Cejka in a share of the runner-up position.
He missed and said: "It’s my fault for hearing it. I’m just disgusted at missing from two and a half feet. It was harder to miss than hole it."
Harrington had to be content with a five-way tie for fourth place. Also in that group was Scotland’s Andrew Coltart, who closed with a pair of tidy birdies and moved up to 12th in the Volvo Order of Merit and sixth in the Ryder Cup Points Table.
Earlier, the first round saw joint leaders in American Christian Pena and China’s leading player, Zhang Lian-Wei, on 66. Pena, a former Arizona State collegiate rival of Phil Mickelson, set the pace with his seven-birdie round while Zhang - conqueror of Europe’s No1 Colin Montgomerie in last year’s Alfred Dunhill Cup - matched that score before a thunderstorm forced the suspension of play at 5.27pm.
Out on the course at the time were two of the tournament favourites and numbers two and three respectively in last season’s Volvo Order of Merit, Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood. Both had hoped to launch their 1999 campaigns with a flourish but both were to be disappointed.
Clarke and Westwood returned to the course early on Friday and returned matching scores of 76, four over par. After a quick turnaround, they set out to try to repair the damage.
However the Ulsterman shot a 79 to miss the cut by eight strokes on 155 while Westwood, despite an improved performance of 72 for 148, was frustrated as the halfway cut fell on 147.
As two of Europe’s leading lights exited, the stage was left clear for Norquist to command the spotlight. The former insurance salesman put the premium on accuracy and opened with matching 67s to climb to 10-under-par and a commanding five-stroke lead over the field.
After three rounds, that lead had been whittled down to one stroke following a five over par 77 which was rescued by a sand save at the 18th from a fairway bunker 58 yards out.
That meant Norquist went into the final day in the last group, leading defending champion Fryatt and Micheel by a solitary stroke. Cejka, after a 69, had made ground to stand just three strokes off the pace.
However, it was Norquist who held his nerve as the principal challengers dropped away one by one. By the end of the day, the European Tour had a new rookie - proving yet again via the co-sanctioned tournament that opportunity and incentive lurk around every corner.