José Maria Olazábal captured his 19th European Tour title after a final round of 67, three under par, earned him a two stroke victory in the Novotel Perrier Open de France.
The double Masters champion, who moves on to The De Vere Belfry next week to defend his Benson and Hedges International Open title, secured victory in the oldest tournament in continental Europe with a birdie on the last to finish two clear of Costantino Rocca, Greg Turner and Paul Eales with the home favourites Gregory Havret and Marc Farry occupying fifth and sixth places.
The rain which disrupted play for the first three days finally stayed away, allowing players to complete the final 36 holes on the last day. Olazábal started the day two off the lead but had moved to the top of the leaderboard alongside Rocca with a morning round of 66. Olazábal then pulled clear of the field with a birdie on the short 14th, hitting his tee shot to four feet and then sealed victory by holing a putt of a similar distance on the last.
“It feels great,” he said. “It has been a long time since I have been a winner on this Tour. I am very, very pleased. It was a good fight within myself just to stay calm - as calm as possible and focused as possible to get the most out of every shot. I’m very happy with what I have done even though I know I should have struck the ball better.
“There are ways to score and ways to play golf. I’m very happy with the way I scored this week but think I need to improve the quality of the shots I hit, especially off the tee. That’s what my target and job is for the next few weeks.”
Olazábal earned 216,660 euro (£134,624) to move to eighth in the Volvo Order of Merit and sixth in the Ryder Cup points list.
“If I want to make the Ryder Cup team, it is very important for me to do well in those tournaments I am going to play in Europe. This is a very important step towards that.”
Olazábal was pushed all the way during the final round, first by Rocca. The Italian won his first European Tour title at Lyon Golf Club but on the other course in 1993 and rekindled fond memories with a third round of 64 to share the 54 hole lead. Despite starting with two bogeys in his final round, Rocca hit back with a brace of birdies from the fifth. Another birdie on the 13th followed but Rocca missed a birdie chance on 15th and then dropped a shot on the following hole. A birdie on the final hole took Rocca to ten under par but it was not quite enough.
“I made two or three mistakes but I’ve enjoyed my game,” he said. “I missed a chance at the 15th from about six to go to 11 under and then made a mistake on the 16th . But I was under par all day.
“When you play a course or near a course where you won it brings back good memories and I thought about my first win . This has been a good week for me.”
Turner, defeated in a play-off by Retief Goosen in this championship two years ago, also mounted a challenge but a double bogey on the 16th, where he drove into a bush, proved costly. An eagle on the final hole repaired the damage as closed with a 67, three under par, to join Rocca in second place.
“It had been steady all the way and then a bit rocky at the finish,” said Turner. “It’s always nice to hit a couple of nice shots especially after a bad hole. It’s a long day, especially for an old man like me. I made a bad swing on 16. It’s hard to keep your concentration but I made a good up and down and 17 and then a good eagle. This tournament has been good to me.”
Eales had said at the start of the week he wanted to be at the sharp end and he continued to apply pressure down the closing stretch. A final round of 68 earned him a share of second, his highest position since 1995.
“I thoroughly enjoyed it,” he said. “Smashing day. It was great fun again. I knew I was coming into some form. It was just a question of trying to stay patient and not letting the missed putts affect you. I just played smart golf all the way round. Looking back perhaps I could have been a little more aggressive with some iron shots but on the whole, it is a big golf course and I think I have done ever so well to get round.”
Havret, three times the French Amateur Champion and playing his rookie season after graduating from the Qualifying School last year, earned his highest finish with a final round of 68 to finish on nine under par in his bid to become the first French winner of the Open de France for 32 years. Compatriot Farry was a further shot adrift, also closing with a round of 68.