Alex Cejka ended seven winless years on The European Tour at Saint-Nom-la-Bretèche when a final round 68 gave him a deserved victory in the 33rd Trophée Lancôme.
The 31 year old German, whose three previous successes all came in 1995, gave notice he was ready to win again in his last outing a month ago when he finished second in the Linde German Masters, and proceeded to go one better in style in Versailles with a calm and controlled performance.
His 12 under par total of 272 saw him finish two shots clear of Spain’s Carlos Rodiles, who closed with a 66, while Angel Cabrera and Jean-François Lucquin shared third on 275 after the Argentine carded a final round 67 to the Frenchman’s 66. The win gave Cejka a cheque for €239,640 (£150,000) and raised the German from 33rd to 21st on the Volvo Order of Merit.
“I have been waiting since 1995 and it has been seven long years,” he said. “It was hard at times but I put in a lot of hard work in that time and stayed patient when things were not going so well, so I am very happy right now.
“I didn’t have anything else in mind today apart from trying to make good shot after good shot, hole after hole. I needed a bit of luck as well, all winners do, and I got that, but I also tried not to make any stupid mistakes and it worked to perfection.”
At the start of the day, with 31 players within five shots of the lead, a close final round was on the cards and so it transpired with no less than six players, Cejka, Simon Dyson, Paul Eales, Ian Garbutt, Rodiles and Steen Tinning tied for the lead on ten under par as the final groups moved through the turn.
All week however, the back nine on the Saint-Nom-la-Bretèche course had been the harder of the two and so it proved again on the final afternoon as, one by one, the leading contenders dropped shots at vital stages. The exception to that rule though was Cejka, who moved clear of the pack with a birdie three at the tenth before going on to complete a flawless closing eight holes.
There were moments of concern for the leader, particularly at the 438 yard 15th hole where he blocked his drive way right into the trees. But good fortune gave him an escape route through the branches and he salvaged a par four.
It proved just the fillip Cejka needed as he went on to roll in a ten foot putt for a birdie four on the next hole, the 541 yard 16th. It gave him a two shot lead with two holes to play and two solid, regulation par figures to finish ensured victory.
The clubhouse target had been set by Rodiles, out earlier in the day, but who stormed through the field with a fine closing 66 for a ten under par total of 274.
The 27 year old Spaniard recovered from a bogey at the second to post five birdies in six holes from the fifth before adding another at the 15th to secure second place, his best ever finish on The European Tour International Schedule, surpassing his tie for fourth place attained in the Volvo PGA Championship at Wentworth Club in May.
At the start of the week, the majority of the home galleries expected to be cheering for established French players such as Raphaël Jacquelin, Thomas Levet and Jean-Francois Remesy, but left applauding the performance Jean-François Lucquin.
The 23 year old from Montelimar could even afford to drop a shot at the last and still tie for third with Angel Cabrera and, having already guaranteed his card through the Challenge Tour Rankings, did enough to suggest he will be a welcome addition to The European Tour in 2003.
Last year’s champion Sergio Garcia put up a stout defence of his title, the Spaniard finishing amongst eight players in a share of fifth place on eight under par 276 after a closing 69.
However the best round of the final day, and the week as a whole, was produced by Mark Pilkington, whose course record 62 moved the 24 year old Welshman from a share of 61st at the start of the day into a tie for 13th.