Ian Poulter of England brought his 2004 season to a spectacular climax when, just five weeks after his Ryder Cup debut, he beat Spain's Sergio Garcia at the first hole of the sudden-death play-off to capture the Volvo Masters Andalucia at Club de Golf Valderrama.
A par four at the first extra hole – the 18th – ensured a high octane sign-off for Poulter, who won €625,000 (£432,202) to finish ninth on the Volvo Order of Merit with €1,533,158 (£1,060,216).
Both Poulter and Garcia closed with one under par rounds of 70 for a seven under par total of 277, one ahead of 54-hole leader, Alastair Forsyth of Scotland, who closed with a 74 for outright third place on 278. Sweden’s Peter Hanson strung together four straight 70s for a career-best fourth position on 280 with another Ryder Cup rookie, David Howell of England tied for fifth with Frenchman Christian Cévaër.
Valderrama lived up to its nickname of ‘Valde-drama’ as, for the third successive year, the curtain fell on a European Tour season following the sudden-death excitement of a play-off.
In 2002, Bernhard Langer and Colin Montgomerie could not be separated after four holes and darkness resulted in a tie. Last year, it took Fredrik Jacobson three holes to edge out Spaniard Carlos Rodiles. This time, Poulter took the shortest play-off route.
Garcia had missed a golden chance to seal the title in regular play when he launched an eight iron approach from 175 yards to five feet at the 72nd hole. However his putt wandered past the left edge of the hole.
Back on the course Forsyth, who had opened with a pair of bogeys, fell behind with a bogey at the 16th. By that juncture Poulter’s trio of birdies from the eighth had given him the momentum to get into the contest.
Two pars at the 17th and 18th brought the inevitable play-off and Garcia hit his drive at the 18th off-line to the right and Poulter to the left. The Spaniard had by far the tougher task and only advanced his ball short and left of the green.
Poulter punched in a knock-down seven iron to the apron of the green and with Garcia needing two chips to get ‘dead’ it was left to the Englishman to dribble his chip to two feet and hole the par putt to claim the major prize.
Two days earlier Poulter had somewhat uncharitably described his season a being “one out of ten” – the single digit being his qualification for The Ryder Cup. A smiling Poulter admitted his season was “probably now a five” after his victory – then changed his mind and settled on “seven”.
“It was unbelievable to come here this week and win. I felt I shouldn’t be satisfied with the way my year had panned out. I had played okay but not managed to finish anything off. This is a sweet end to the year and to cap it all with a win in the Volvo Masters Andalucia turned an average year into quite a nice one.”
Poulter conceded that he stopped short of awarding himself more than seven because he believes he is capable of better. He added: “I believe I’m capable of winning two, three, four, five times in a year. I am hard on myself and that’s the only way I guess you can keep moving forward. I’m not satisfied with finishing second and third. I don’t like losing. I’m a bad loser and I’m not ashamed to admit it.”
Next season, Poulter will take the opportunity to play some more in the USA but added; “I think The European Tour will always be my home. I’ve loved my golf over here and I’m a very happy player here. I will always play my quota, if not more than my quota of events.”
Overall, Poulter had reason to feel quietly satisfied. It was his seventh win on The European Tour and extended his record of winning in each of his five seasons as a Tour Member. The cheque was his biggest to date and the five year exemption provides the ideal back-stop.
Incredibly he has won more than €5 million from just 143 starts on Tour and he can savour automatic entry into the 134th Open Championship, the US Open Championship and the World Golf Championships – NEC Invitational in 2005.
Garcia accepted his fate with great dignity, hugging Poulter warmly and offering his congratulations. The Ryder Cup bonding session had clearly not yet worn off! The Spaniard, who finished 13th on the Volvo Order of Merit, observed: “It’s a shame but somebody’s got to lose. I felt like I gave myself chances to win it. That’s all you can do.
“I would love to win here at Valderrama and this is as close as I’ve come. My putt on the 18th was probably just inside the left and I didn’t trust myself and pulled it a little bit. Fortunately this year I’ve won two play-offs in the U.S. and I am still proud of the way I played.”
Forsyth, leading by three overnight, played with considerable credit and finished 33rd on the Volvo Order of Merit. He said: “I played the first three days as well as I’ve ever played. It didn’t quite happen for me today. I would like to have emulated Stephen Gallacher’s win in the dunhill links championship a few weeks ago.”
When the dust settled on another outstanding season on The European Tour International Schedule, Howell reached the top ten on the Volvo Order of Merit for the first time; Gallacher had finished in a career-best 15th place while Luke Donald ended the campaign in 20th position.