Australian Brett Rumford captured his maiden European Tour title with an impressive wire-to-wire victory in the Aa St Omer Open in France to earn a valuable exemption to The European Tour International Schedule until the end of 2004.
A final round of 67, four under par, gave Rumford a 15 under par total of 269, five strokes clear of playing partner Ben Mason of England.
The 25 year old from Perth, who had led from the outset after opening with a course record 64, started the final round three strokes clear of Welshman Garry Houston and Mason.
While Houston slipped back on the final day into a share of eighth place, Mason moved within a shot of the lead with birdies at the first, fourth and fifth holes to Rumford’s solitary birdie on the third, but when Rumford’s birdie on the seventh was followed by a Mason bogey, the three stroke cushion was back in place.
That lead came under threat at the ninth when Rumford hooked his second shot to the par five towards the out of bounds but his ball remained in play by a mere two inches. From there he was able to save his par while Mason missed an opportunity to close the gap when his eight foot birdie putt slipped by the hole.
After riding his luck on the ninth, Rumford stepped up a gear on the back nine, reeling off three birdies in the next four holes to move six strokes clear and leave the remainder of the field trailing in his wake.
Victory earned Rumford €66,660 (£46,901) but more valuable is the 18 month exemption to The European Tour International Schedule until the end of 2004.
When Rumford turned professional in 2000 amid a blaze of glory having won the ANZ Championship on the Australasian Tour as an amateur the previous season he seemed to have the world at his feet. He won his European Tour card through the Qualifying School at the first time of asking and enjoyed an impressive rookie season on The 2001 European Tour when he finished 57th in the Volvo Order of Merit.
But rather than driving on from there, Rumford’s career took a backward step and he lost his card last year. His attempt to regain it the Qualifying School ended a stroke short of the mark but now his career is back on track. He is also able to exorcise the ghosts of the Ericsson Masters in February 2001 on the Australasian Tour when he led the tournament by three strokes going into the final round but shot a final round of 76 and was overhauled by Colin Montgomerie.
“I didn’t want to reflect on the Ericsson Masters but I led by three also over quite a strong field in Australia and let that slip in the final round. My game went on a slide ever since that tournament. Today I was put in that predicament once again, leading by three going into the final round and I am so happy I was able to trust my game and play the golf I know how to play. I am proud of myself for playing some very good golf.
“Ben came at me early and he holed some good putts. Not much was happening from my side so I had to dig deep and stay in the present and play the golf I had been playing all week. It came to fruition through the middle part of my round. The key holes were ten through 13 and that changed everything.”
Referring to the ninth he added: “I was extremely lucky but they are the breaks you need if you are to win golf tournaments. Fortunately it went my way this week. I just want to enjoy this week as I have waited so long for it.”
Furthermore he can now start writing his Best Man speech for his brother Mitch’s wedding in November, a date that clashed with the Qualifying School Finals.
Mason continues to make steady progress as he produced his best performance on The European Tour since graduating from the Qualifying School last November. After turning professional he has made steady advancement each year, climbing from 87th in the Challenge Tour Rankings in 2001 to 24th last year before earning his European Tour card at the School. A closing 69, two under par, earned him a cheque for €44,440 (£31,267).
“I made a good start, put a bit of pressure on Brett but he responded very well,” said Mason. “I got up and down a few times on the back nine but it was a decent round of golf. I would have liked to have shot a few lower but second place is pretty good. I am quite happy with that. This continues the learning curve. Last group on the final day is always nice and hopefully many more to come.”
Third place was claimed by Italian Federico Bizazza who holed a 15 foot putt on the last to save par and complete a final round of 70 for a six under par total of 278.