(1022633)Desvonde Botes became the second South African winner of the European Tour Qualifying School Finals with a record low score of 417, 15 under par, at San Roque and Sotogrande. The 26 year old led from the second of the six punishing rounds to finish four strokes clear from former Walker Cup player Graham Rankin of Scotland.
Rankin, lying 83rd after the first 18 holes of the 108-hole marathon, produced a tremendous closing 65, seven under par, at San Roque for an 11 under par total of 421 with England’s Robert Coles filling third place on 422 after a round of 66.
Exactly 35 players reached the promised land by leaving Spain with a precious card in their hands after Botes not only beat Steve Webster’s ten under par score in 1995 but the entire field played to a higher standard than ever before. In the past five seasons at San Roque, the last player receiving a card scored between four over par and nine over par. This year the standard was set at 433 – one over par.
Botes, who emulates Retief Goosen’s victory in the Qualifying School Finals in 1992, threw in a pair of 67s in his second and fourth rounds to move clear of the field, and even a double bogey at the final hole – only his second of the week – was unable to diminish his sense of achievement.
The sturdily built Springbok, who as a 16 year old usurped Ernie Els as the youngest winner of the South African Amateur Championship, was completing a notable double, having also won the Pre-Qualifying Second Stage at Emporda. After winning the 17,414 euro (£10,500) first prize, he said: “I just tried to be patient. That is the main thing. Now I am just looking forward to playing on the European Tour as there is no better place to gain experience.”
Rankin, who won 14,097 euro (£8500), was one of three of the victorious 1999 Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup side to earn their playing rights on the European Tour next season. The former bricklayer from Airdrie looked in danger of missing out after a fourth round 78, but bounced back in style with closing scores of 67 and 65 to become a first-time Member of the Tour in 2001.
He said: “That was hard work but it helped to have a hole in one at the seventh. That helped me to relax. I was really focused yesterday and today because I might not have had another chance if I hadn’t bucked up my ideas.”
Rankin’s Walker Cup team-mates, Simon Dyson and Graeme Storm, the 1999 Amateur champion, also passed the stiffest examination in the game to become one of the 35 players to collect their cards. Dyson, a double winner on the Davidoff Tour in Asia this year, lay 133rd after three rounds, but finished with scores of 65, 71 and 71 to claim the 33rd card.
Dyson, 22, who shot an 80 in the second round, holed a six footer for a birdie on his 108th and last hole and gasped: “It felt like 20 feet! That was tough. I thought playing four rounds in the heat of Asia was hard, but it’s nothing compared to this.”
Storm shot a final round of 67 under pressure to became a card holder and joined in the chorus of players who felt drained by the experience. He commented: “I just hope to keep my card because I don’t want to have to come back here too often!”
Meanwhile Coles managed to erase the memories of the School two years ago when he was hurt in a car crash on the eve of the tournament and was forced to pull out after playing 27 holes with cracked ribs. His 66 was the second best round of the last day behind Rankin’s 65.
New Zealand’s Elliot Boult took fourth place on 424, eight under par – sharing that mark with the hugely promising teenager Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium. The youngster from Brussels turned professional on his 18th birthday just days before the Qualifying School Finals and lay second at the halfway stage.
There were cards, too, for long-time European Tour regulars Steve Richardson and Mark Mouland. Richardson was six over par after three rounds but fought back with scores of 68, 73 and 69 to take the 30th card on level par. Mouland, after an absence of a year, rejoined the fold on 431, one under.
Richardson admitted: “I am shattered…done in. I had a headache and felt sick today but that was probably just the pressure. However I putted brilliantly and I feel pleased to get my card.”