It might not have been the procession most at El Cortijo Club de Campo had envisaged, but the result, nevertheless, was the one the boisterous galleries wanted, as Sergio Garcia survived a nervous final round before being crowned champion in the Canarias Open de España.
The 22 year old began the day five shots clear of the field and looked set for a stroll in the park when he birdied the first hole and eagled the second. But a few mistakes, allied to a determined challenge from the chasing pack saw the Spaniard reeled in to within one shot at one stage.
However Garcia regained his composure and birdies at the 14th and 16th steadied the ship as one by one his challengers proceeded to slip back. In the end, his final round 73 gave him a 13 under par total of 275 and a four shot victory from Italy’s Emanuele Canonica who closed with a 72 for a nine under par total of 279.
England’s Greg Owen took third on 280 after his closing 72 while Spanish amateur Rafael Cabrera (73) and Sweden’s Carl Pettersson (72) shared fourth on seven under par 271.
Garcia picked up the winners’ cheque for 287,000 euro (£176,360) which moved him up one place to fourth on the Volvo Order of Merit. It represented his fourth European Tour victory in 40 starts as a professional, his eighth professional win worldwide and, importantly from a personal point of view, his first in his native Spain.
“I’m very happy,” he said. “Admittedly I didn’t play as well as I’d have liked to on the final day but I hung in there because I wanted to win. It doesn’t matter how you do it, everyone is always simply going to remember that I won.”
After his blistering start, Garcia’s form stuttered a little with bogeys at the fourth and sixth. But it appeared to stumble when he found the water at the 12th to rack up a double bogey six and when he followed that with a bogey four at the short 13th, his seven shot lead was down to one.
However he almost drove the green at the 298 yard 14th to pick up a birdie and when he also birdied the par five 16th, he was back in control and two pars to finish were sufficient. Garcia admitted, in his mind at least, losing was never an option.
“I knew what I had to do and I knew that I was in control even though it might have looked for a while that I wasn’t,” he said. “I knew if I kept hitting good shots, be patient and play smart that everything was going to be fine and that is what happened.”
Nearest challenger in the early stages of the back nine was Pettersson, winner a fortnight ago in the Algarve Open de Portugal, who looked in line for back-to-back successes after a superb first 14 holes which featured five birdies.
But the 24 year old Swede found the water at the 15th after pushing too hard for another birdie and he also dropped shots at the 17th and 18th. He said: “I had to have a go for it at the 15th, as with every tournament I play I don’t come to be second or third, I come to win and if there is a chance, I’ll go for it.
“Obviously to finish fifth is pleasing but I am a little disappointed because I had gotten it to one shot behind. I knew Garcia would play well coming in but I’m pleased I gave him something to think about, at least for a little while.”
Second placed Canonica was understandably delighted with his performance. After losing his Tour card at the end of last year when he finished 132nd on the Volvo Order of Merit, his cheque for 191,330 euro (£117,571) guaranteed his playing privileges for the 2003 season.
“I’m very happy obviously, more than happy actually and I can’t really put into words how I am feeling,” he said. “I was playing next week anyway but this gives me a real boost to go ahead and try and make this my best season.”
Third placed Owen battled hard all day and bravely recovered from dropping shots at the seventh and tenth to birdie the 16th and 17th which guaranteed him a cheque for 107,797 euro (£66,240) which elevated him to 19th on the Volvo Order of Merit.
“We were playing against the fifth best player in the world and he beat us,” said Owen. “It was very tough conditions today and I had a bit of a rough patch around the turn but I was pleased with the way I hung in there at the end.”
Sharing fourth with Pettersson, 17 year old Spanish amateur Cabrera from Gran Canaria, thrilled the home spectators with a brave performance under the full glare of the spotlight of the last group with Garcia.
The runner-up in last year’s British Boys Championship at Ganton equalled the best showing by an amateur in an official European Tour event, moving alongside Gary Hallberg (T4 in 1977 Scandinavian Enterprise Open), Gordon Sherry (T4 in the 1995 Scottish Open) and Justin Rose (T4 in the 1998 Open Championship.
Further down the final leaderboard Retief Goosen, current Number One on the Volvo Order of Merit, rediscovered the touch which had deserted him in the earlier rounds, his closing 67 giving him a four under par total of 284.
“That was a lot better today,” said the South African who broke 70 for the first time in the week and incredibly moved from 43rd at the start of the day into a tie for eighth. “I eventually found some rhythm in my game and some touch on the greens. It hasn’t quite been the week I was hoping for but I think it’s better to finish a tournament well after starting badly than the other way round.
“I am going to have a week at home next week, just resting and sorting out bits and pieces in my new house and then try and get ready for three big weeks on The European Tour, starting at the Benson and Hedges International Open.”