Friday, 19 March 2010

South African Charl Schwartzel claimed his second European Tour title when he won the Open de España at the Centro Nacional de Golf on the outskirts of Madrid.

The 22 year old carded a final round 67 at the new home of the Real Federation Español de Golf for a 16 under par total of 272 to win by a shot from India’s Jyoti Randhawa, with home favourite Carlos Rodiles third a further shot back.

It had been 50 European Tour events exactly since the talented young South African made his breakthrough with victory in the 2005 dunhill championship in his native country and, in picking up the handsome cheque for €333,330 (£226,150) in Madrid, he moved sixth on The European Tour Order of Merit as well as into the top 50 on the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time.

“I have always enjoyed playing in Spain in the past and have done pretty well here so I always felt my first win outside South Africa might come here and so it has turned out,” said Schwartzel, who also paid tribute to the help he received from caddie Ricci Roberts.

“Having Ricci on the bag is just superb. He had caddied for Ernie (Els) for about 16 years and they both fancied a change and when I asked if he wanted to caddie for me, I was very happy when he said yes.

“He has so much experience and has seen it all and done it all with something like 50 wins alongside Ernie so I just felt that experience helped give me an advantage. I had been playing well but I was just lacking that edge and I think Ricci gave me that, maybe gave me that one shot edge I had been lacking.”

Along with the rest of the field, Schwartzel had to return early on Sunday morning to complete his third round – a legacy of the horrendous weather tournament organisers had had to cope with throughout the week in the Spanish capital.

It was testimony to their organisational skills – under the stewardship of Tournament Director Miguel Vidaor – that they did just that and got the tournament back on track to finish on time although, ironically, Schwartzel was in no mood for congratulatory messages when a double bogey six at the 18th in the morning, saw him end the third round three shots behind leader Rodiles.

Going into the afternoon’s play, the weight of expectation from the home fans – who were hoping to see Rodiles become the first Spanish champion since Sergio Garcia won in 2002 – appeared to lay heavily on the shoulders of the 31 year old who also had the added pressure of looking for his own maiden European Tour title.

Out in level par 36 was not good enough to hold onto pole position and allowed Randhawa to storm through the field to lead. The 34 year old – looking to become the third Indian golfer behind Arjun Atwal and Jeev Milkha Singh to win on The European Tour – charged to the front at 16 under par with birdies at the first, sixth, seventh, eighth, 12th and 13th holes, two clear of Rodiles and Schwartzel, who reached the turn in three under par 33.

Randhawa’s run to the top was incredible considering, after 22 holes of the tournament he was four over par, in a share of 136th place, and in danger of having to catch an early flight home.

But he battled back gamely and did not drop another shot until he horseshoed round the hole for par at the 15th in the final round, a mistake which not only dented his confidence for the closing holes, it also gave Rodiles and Schwartzel hope. Randhawa could make no more birdies coming home, seeing him set the clubhouse target with a 15 under par total of 273 after a closing 67.

It meant either Rodiles or Schwartzel had to make something happen to take the title – and the South African showed he was up for the challenge.

His prodigious length allowed him to drive the green at the 360 yard par four 13th on his way to a birdie three, before his shot of the day at the par five 16th laid the foundations for victory.

In the centre of the fairway from the tee, Schwartzel fired a perfect three iron second from 235 yards out to within 15 feet pin high of the flag. In mid-air, caddie Ricci Roberts was heard to proclaim, “Oh baby, be right,” and it was.

To complete the dream hole, he rolled in the putt for a crucial eagle three which moved him to 17 under par for the tournament and allowed him the luxury of a bogey five at the last – after a pulled drive into the punishing rough – to still beat the clubhouse total set some 45 minutes earlier by Randhawa.

“I had perfect yardage for my three iron at the 16th even though the shot was slightly into the wind,” said Schwartzel. “But it felt the right club and I put a good swing on it. As soon as I had hit it, I knew it was going to be good.”

Schwartzel’s victory was not assured; however, as he had to wait to see if, in the final match behind, Rodiles could come up with the goods to force a play-off.

The 31 year old from Malaga battled gamely but let too many chances slip past, including at the 16th where he too had an eagle putt after his own excellent second shot. Indeed, his putt was from half the distance that Schwartzel had had moments earlier, but he missed and had to settle for a birdie four.

After a par three at the 17th, it meant the Spaniard came down the last one shot adrift of the South African, needing a birdie three to tie, a tall order on the demanding 464 yard par four and so it proved.

Although he hit a good drive, his second shot flew left of the green and buried deep in the cloying rough from where the winner of the 2006 European Tour Qualifying School at San Roque, did well to pitch and two putt for a bogey five with the water lurking just yards behind the pin.

The dropped shot consigned Rodiles – who had been hoping to become just the third player in European Tour history (following Gordon Brand Jnr and José Maria Olazábal) to win the season after they won the Qualifying School – to a final round 72 and third place behind Randhawa on 14 under par 274.

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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
2RANDHAWA, JyotiIND18-15
3RODILES, CarlosESP18-14
T4FOSTER, MarkENG18-13
T4DYSON, SimonENG18-13
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