Des Smyth became the oldest winner in the history of The European Tour when he won the Madeira Island Open, closing with an outstanding 66 for an 18 under par total of 270 and a two stroke victory over England’s John Bickerton..
At the age of 48 years and 34 days, the Irishman surpasses the previous record held by Neil Coles who was 48 years and 12 days when he won the 1982 Sanyo Open. Smyth, who last won in 1993, has now won eight European Tour titles and one in each of the last four different decades having won his first title in 1979.
“I’m ecstatic,” he said. “I was almost afraid to think of winning. I’ve won seven times previously and played Ryder Cup but when you haven’t won for so long it is like this elusive dream.
“It just shows you if you can keep hanging on. I’ve just hung on for the last couple of years. Last year was a tough year when I finished 111th in the Volvo Order of Merit. But I came out this year playing very well. I didn’t do any extra work but probably thought a little more about the game and my swing and what my ambitions were.
“This is huge for me. It’s very hard to win on Tour these days. It will take at least week to sink in.”
With the spectacular Santo da Serra course basking in glorious sunshine the stage was set for something exceptional. But Smyth, starting the day three shots adrift of Italy’s Massimo Florioli, made the worst possible start by three putting the first to fall further behind.
However, after a birdie on the par five third hole, the turning point came on the seventh. Having pulled his drive into the trees he was faced with a near impossible shot. All routes back out to safety seemed blocked apart from a gap over the trees above him.
He said: “I really had very little chance of getting out. I took a huge gamble going through a gap over my head. There were trees all around me and I couldn’t get out so I whacked a wedge over the trees and got it on the fairway. Then hit a seven iron to four feet and holed the putt. That’s where things changed.”
Having reached the turn in one under par 35, Smyth turned for home with all guns blazing. A birdie on the tenth was followed by his shot of the day, a towering four iron on the par five 11th to within a foot which left him with a simple tap in for eagle. He dropped a shot on the 13th, holing a crucial four footer for a bogey five. But again the Irishman hit back with a hat-trick of birdies from the 14th to move to 18 under par and beyond the reach of the chasing pack.
His rounds of 66-70-68-66 for an 18 under par total of 270 earned Smyth the first prize of 91,660 euro (£58,181) and also a two year exemption on The European Tour which will take him into the Seniors Tour when he reaches the age of 50.
Smyth’s nearest challenger was Bickerton, second for a third time as a maiden victory continues to elude him. After starting his round with eight straight pars, Bickerton finally made a move with birdies on the ninth and tenth. But his hopes of victory faded when he found water on the left of the 11th and, despite trying to play the shot with his shoes and socks off, could do no better than a bogey six. Two more birdies coming home gave Bickerton a final round of 69 for a 16 under par 272 but he fell just short.
“I just let a couple of holes slip,” he said. “On the 11th knocked it in the water. Went in and tried to play it with my shoes off and knocked it back into trouble. Made bogey but it was a good bogey. Then missed a couple of chances. But then again I’m happy. Second…again.”
Among the group of four players a further two strokes adrift was the defending champion Niclas Fasth. The Swede moved into contention with five birdies on the back nine to move within a shot of the lead but two bogeys on the last two holes proved costly.
The Italian pair of Massimo Florioli and Massimo Scarpa closed with rounds of 73 and 67 respectively to join Fasth and England’s Stephen Dodd, who shot a final round of 70, on 14 under par 274.Final scores and prize money