It may have been a decade since he last tasted success, but Per-Ulrik Johansson showed he had not lost the knack of winning when he cruised to a six shot victory in The Russian Open Golf Championship.
Winning from the front is never easy but the 40 year old Swede made it look exactly that at Le Meridien Moscow Country Club on the outskirts of the nation’s capital to claim his sixth European Tour International Schedule, the €244,250 (£164,282) first prize cheque, and a priceless exemption to The European Tour until the end of the 2009 season.
Having taken command of the tournament with his second round 62 – a round only denied a share of Iain Pyman’s 2002 course record by the preferred lies in operation – the two time Ryder Cup player stood four shots clear going into the final day after a third round 67.
And despite both his nearest challengers and playing partners, Robert-Jan Derksen of The Netherlands and Alan McLean of Scotland, birdieing the first hole to immediately put pressure on, Johansson responded magnificently to power to his first title win since the 1997 Smurfit European Open at The K Club, and move up to 69th on The 2007 European Tour Order of Merit.
In the end, Johansson closed with a 67 for a 23 under par total of 265 to win by six shots from Derksen, who carded a final round 69 for 271 and seven clear of third placed McLean who posted a 68 for 272.
Johansson’s winning total beat the previous record low for the event of 22 under par 266 set last year by Spain’s Alejandro Cañizares, but the mere statistics do little to emphasise what at times was almost a golfing exhibition from the Swede.
Birdies at the two par fives on the outward half – the second and the fifth – quickly reminded Derksen and McLean that they would have to work extremely hard to catch him while further gains at the seventh and ninth, the latter courtesy of a curling 20 foot putt, told them the chase was probably futile.
Another raking birdie putt fell into the hole at the short 11th before he proved he was equally deadly when faced with tricky escapes for par, holing from 25 feet at the 14th after an unscheduled trip into the trees with his tee shot, before pitching and putting from over the back of the green at the long 15th for five.
With the pressure off his shoulders, Johansson was able to enjoy the final three holes, parring each one, and what is more, revel in the glorious sunshine which greeted the end of the event, a highly unusual sight in a week which had seen the tournament lose 12 ¼ hours of play due to torrential rain and flooding.
“I feel great,” said Johansson when the dust had settled. “I haven’t won in ten years, since 1997. I have played some good golf since then but I haven’t played this well so I am very, very pleased.
“It is tough when you haven’t won for that long but the most important thing is that you still have to play when you get into a position. You can’t think about winning because you can’t control the other people so I am very pleased with the way I did that.
“I focused on every shot and the only time my mind wandered away a little bit was in the middle of the round and I was thinking about speeches and stuff but I kicked myself and said, no, no, think only about the present and it really worked.
“I think my putting was the best I have ever putted through a whole tournament. I can’t remember making that many putts. My long game was okay and I kept the ball in play but every time I got the ball on the green I felt like I had a chance for birdie – that was a great feeling.”
Derksen and McLean battled gamely all day but, from a very early stage, it was clear they were fighting it out for the minor positions on the podium.
In the end Derksen took second thanks to back to back birdies at the 15th and 16th and a brave up and down from sand to save par at the 18th. McLean could have tied him following birdies of his own at the 14th, 15th and 17th, but a dropped shot at the 18th consigned him to third on his own.
South African Dawie Van der Walt and England’s Adam Gee shared fourth on 13 under par 275 while Ireland’s Gary Murphy, Sweden’s Christopher Hanell and England’s Steve Webster shared sixth on 277, the finish being Webster, the pre-tournament favourite’s, third top ten finish in succession.
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