Ricardo Gonzalez completed a memorable Argentine double when he led from start to finish at Crans-sur-Sierre to capture the Omega European Masters and his maiden European Tour title.
Gonzalez follows directly in the footsteps of Eduardo Romero, who led the tournament for all four days 12 months ago, and becomes the fifth Argentine winner on The European Tour after Angel Cabrera, José Coceres, Vicente Fernandez and Romero.
He is also the 11th first-time winner on the 2001 European Tour International Schedule and his victory in the spectacular Swiss Alps earned him 250,000 euro (£156,616), lifting him to 22nd in the Volvo Order of Merit.
After opening with a six under par 65, Gonzalez never looked back, adding rounds of 67 and 68 before closing with a three under par 68 for 16 under par total of 268 and a three stroke victory over Denmark’s Soren Hansen, with former Masters champion Craig Stadler and Scotland’s Gary Orr a further two shots back.
It was Gonzalez’s first victory since the he won the Tusker Kenya Open on the European Challenge Tour in 1998, the year he graduated to The European Tour. Since then his previous best finish was joint second in the 2000 Mercedes Benz South African Open and this year he has continued to show his abundance of potential with five top ten finishes.
Gonzalez held a two shot lead going into the final round and maintained his lead with three birdies in a outward half of 34, his only dropped shot coming on the sixth hole. Another birdie on the 12th kept the 31 year old three clear as he left the chasing pack trailing in his wake.
“This is a major victory especially for Argentina. To be on the European Tour and to have the first win means a great deal to me. It’s a great honour to follow in Eduardo’s footsteps. I got congratulations from Eduardo and the other Argentine players when I finished. Nothing compares to this.
“Of course there was a bit of pressure but the difference during the round was always three or four shots. I chipped very well all week and I think that was the key to victory.
“I have been waiting for that victory for two or three years but was always missing something. There has always been one bad round over the past two years in many tournaments. When I saw the leaderboard after 13 holes I knew I just had to play safe. I’m very happy.”
Like last year when Thomas Björn finished second, it was left to a Dane to mount the most serious challenge but despite a flawless round, which included three birdies, Hansen was unable to narrow the gap and closed with a round of 68 for a 13 under par total of 271 for his highest finish on The European Tour.
“That is my best week, my best finish so I am quite pleased,” said Hansen. “ I had a good feeling today. Holed a few good putts for par on the front nine. I was feeling great on the back nine. Thought it could turn around if Ricardo made a couple of mistakes but he didn’t. He played great.
“Maybe if a few putts here and there had dropped on those par fives it might have changed things. But Ricardo deserves this – he has played very well all week.”
Stadler, who won at Crans-sur-Sierre in 1985, also mounted a challenge by birdieing the first two holes but three bogeys ultimately proved costly as he completed a round of 68 to finish joint third on 11 under par.
“That was way above expectations for the week,” he said. “It was fun, a good time. It was a good start to the holiday. I thought I might have a chance after birdieing the first two holes but then made a couple of mistakes. Still this is probably the best result in a year and half.”
Orr joined Stadler on 11 under par after a closing 69, the highlight of which came from a holed bunker shot on the 13th for a birdie two when the ball dived in the hole with touching the sides.
“I can’t be unhappy with third,” said Orr. “There were a number of good signs there. It is the best I have swung it in a long time. It is a big step in the right direction.”