Roger Chapman and the late Payne Stewart had little in common other than a love for the game of golf, but it was the tragic death of the US Open champion which inspired the Englishman to end 19 years of frustration in Rio de Janeiro.
Chapman, 40, finally made his big breakthrough by winning the inaugural Brazil Rio de Janeiro 500 Years Open at Itanhangá Golf Club, when he beat Ireland’s Padraig Harrington at the second hole of a dramatic sudden-death play-off.
His par four to Harrington’s bogey five allowed Chapman to become a European Tour winner for the first time in 472 attempts and after a dozen second place finishes around the world, six of them in Europe.
It was third time lucky in a European Tour play-off, but as Chapman gloried in the euphoria of victory with an 18 under par total of 270, he took time to reflect on how Stewart’s sudden and tragic death had impacted on his life.
Chapman, who finished with a seven under par 65 to tie Harrington (70), explained: “Last year I felt so low that I was going to give up. I missed the cut at the Belgacom Open and lost my card. I thought my whole world had fallen apart and I wasn’t going to go to the Qualifying School.
“But then, tragically, Payne Stewart died and I looked at myself and thought: ‘He wanted to play but can’t any more; I can play but don’t want to’. I took a long, serious look at myself and decided to go to the School and came through that.
“It took the Payne Stewart tragedy to make me realise that there are people worse off and that I was spoiled, really. My wife, Cathy, told me I wasn’t a quitter and I agreed to give it another go. It’s amazing after 19 years on Tour. This is the best feeling in the world. It’s everything I thought it would be and more. I’ve got the monkey off my back at last.”
Twice in the past, Chapman had lost play-offs when that elusive first title seemed within his grasp. In Brazil, Chapman endured agonies yet again before clinching the crown that was so richly deserved.
The jockeying for position continued throughout a final round which thrilled the Brazilian public unused to top level competitive golf. Chapman went into the final round five behind Harrington, who had shot 67, 62 and 71 to reach that position at the top of the leaderboard.
Also lurking close by was rookie, Alastair Forsyth, who opened with rounds of 65 and 62 to lead at the halfway stage in only his seventh tournament since winning the Qualifying School in which Chapman claimed the 12th card.
Forsyth was to drop back after a disappointing triple bogey at the last hole, but he still performed superbly to tie for sixth behind Chapman, Harrington, Dubai Desert Classic winner, Jose Coceres, who took third, and joint fourth Jorge Berendt and Joakim Haeggman.
Harrington and Chapman vied for the lead all through the final nine holes, with Chapman birdieing the long 15th and 16th to move in front, before Harrington matched his birdie at the 15th.
At the 72nd hole, Chapman charged his first putt from 30 feet ten feet past. He kept a steady nerve and holed confidently, leaving Harrington to par in to secure a spot in the play-off.
At the first extra hole, Chapman drove into water and made a bogey five after a penalty drop. Harrington, who finished second five times in 1999 and again in the recent Benson & Hedges Malaysian Open, let Chapman breath again by three putting from long range.
Then Harrington put his tee shot into the water hazard on the second extra hole, and Chapman didn’t waste his opportunity, striking a superb five iron 187 yards to the heart of the green and two putting for that delicious victory.
Harrington, generous in defeat, said: “I wish I had won, but I couldn’t have lost to a nicer guy. He has been out here for a long time and deserves it after all those years.”