Sunday, 02 July 2006

England's John Bickerton survived a late wobble on Le Golf National course's infamous closing stretch to claim the centenary Open de France ALSTOM title by a stroke. Bickerton double-bogeyed the 15th after hitting his second shot into the water guarding the green but held on to avoid a play-off with Ireland's Padraig Harrington after carding a two under par 69 for an 11 under par total of 273.

The last four holes at the National have claimed many victims in the past and Bickerton had to keep his cool after a three-shot advantage was cut to just a stroke by his six on the 15th after finding the lake with his approach.

On the long, uphill par four 17th, the 36 year old Englishman drove into heavy rough and sprayed his second shot over the path and to the right.

But he then produced one of the shots of the tournament to chip to seven feet and save par. When he safely found the middle of the island 18th green, Bickerton's two putts for par earned him €666,660, one of the richest prizes of The European Tour season.

His 666,660 Ryder Cup points took Bickerton, whose previous was at last year's Abama Open de Canarias in, to tenth on The European Ryder Cup Points Table and in with a real chance of qualifying for Ian Woosnam's Team for The K Club in September.

After leading for the first two rounds, he trailed New Zealand's Michael Campbell by a stroke going into the final round but overhauled him with three birdies in four holes from the 11th although the 2005 US Open Champion remained a threat after drawing within a stroke with a birdie on the 16th.

Campbell, though, lost his victory chance and a share of second place with Harrington by hitting his approach into the lake to double-bogey the last. 

A 63 in the first round, just a stroke off the course record, set up Bickerton's victory, which also earned him an exemption for The Open Championship in two weeks' time and took him to fifth on The European Tour Order of Merit. Robert Karlsson and Marcus Fraser also qualified for The Open at Royal Liverpool.

"I've been out here a long time and it's nice to put some icing on the cake," said Bickerton. "It is exciting. I am going to go back to England and see my son tomorrow. He is going to be over the moon. It just makes it all worthwhile. My mum, Marilyn, is not very well either and she will be over the moon. It is not just for me, it is for a lot of people."

Harrington, who was runner-up in the US Tour's Booz Allen Classic last week, chalked up a remarkable 22nd second place in European Tour strokeplay events in ten years after birdies at the last two holes for a 66, the joint-best round of the day.

"I was talking about world ranking points and got to sixth in the world by getting second places," said Harrington. "I need more second places but I didn’t realise it would happen that quickly. I also forgot how difficult to take second was as well. But sometimes you have to be in the hunt before you win." 

The Irishman, who said on Saturday he could not win on the course, came to the Le National looking for Ryder Cup points and picked up 440,440 points to move into fifth place on The European Points Table.

Campbell finished in a tie for third place, three behind Bickerton, with Australian Marcus Fraser (69) and another Englishman Ian Poulter (69).

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