Sweden’s Niclas Fasth extended his run of play-off victories to three when he defeated England’s John Bickerton to capture the Andalucía Open de España Valle Romano at San Roque Club, Cadiz.
Fasth, who had turned 34 the day before, delivered the perfect birthday present to himself with a glorious nine iron to five feet at the ninth green that set up a winning birdie after both players had parred the 18th three times.
Bickerton’s approach flirted with the water but cleared it by inches, landing beside the sponsor’s marquee. He earned a free drop and despite a good chip, Fasth holed his putt for a three and the winner’s cheque of €275,000 (£190,464).
The title had earlier threatened to slip from Fasth’s grasp as he bogeyed the last two holes in regulation to throw away a two shot lead and tie with Bickerton, who had matched the course record with a flawless 63, on 18 under par 270.
“I have bounced back many times this week,” said Fasth. “I have had my setbacks but I have come back. That is rather strong. I didn’t really feel great about my shots in the play-off, but I hung in there and eventually hit a great shot and made birdie.”
That shot ultimately earned Fasth his fourth European Tour title and his third successive one via a play-off, following his successes last year in the Holden New Zealand Open and The Deutsche Bank Players’ Championship.
The victory moved the Swede up to 11th on The European Tour Order of Merit and earned him some much needed Ryder Cup points
“I haven’t really started my Ryder Cup bid yet as I haven’t made the results so far this year. However, in the last month I have felt my game come together. With regards the Ryder Cup I have done next to nothing to get on the team, but this is obviously a step forward and will hopefully help me to get into some big tournaments. So the win instead of second place meant a lot,” added Fasth.
The runner-up cheque of €183,330 (£126,973) represented the second biggest prize of Bickerton’s long career and follows on from his maiden European Tour victory, also on Spanish soil, in the Abama Open de Canarias in Tenerife last October.
This was the Englishman’s 300th European Tour event and he admitted that his performance will have pleased “many people back at home”.
He added: “I finished fourth in Malaysia this year and I have made a lot of cuts but not really featured until now. It’s been quite strange really because I have put a new driver and new irons in my bag this week, and my old putter, and it’s all come to fruition.”
Six players shared third place on 17 under par 271 - Phillip Archer of England, Denmark’s Thomas Björn, Mattias Eliasson of Sweden, England’s David Griffiths, the leading Spaniard, José Manuel Lara, and Scotland’s Gary Orr.
After going out in 39, overnight leader Griffiths fought back superbly with an immaculate back nine that contained four birdies. The Challenge Tour graduate capped a memorable week with a fine putt at the last to snatch a share of third place – his best result to date.
He said: “That putt at 18 made a big difference to my finish. I felt like I hit the ball nicely all day, but my close control was just a little out and my putting wasn’t as good as it had been.
“I was a little bit nervous inside my stomach but it wasn’t having an effect on how I was hitting my shots, which was nice. It is a strange experience when you have not led before. You don’t know what to expect. If things don’t go well you try to make things happen, which is probably the worst thing you can do.
“I will take the experience and run with it and see what I can do in the coming weeks.”