Perhaps fittingly on the day of Sir Terry Matthews, Chairman of the Celtic Manor Resort’s 61st birthday, Simon Khan, the man whose own sensational 61 set the new course record on Friday, emerged as the champion from an enthralling and compellingly dramatic Celtic Manor Wales Open.
The 31 year old Englishman eventually claimed his maiden title on The European Tour International Schedule and the €375,092 (£250,000) first prize to go with it at the second hole of a sudden-death play-off with fellow countryman Paul Casey after both players had ended the regulation 72 holes on 21 under par 267.
However, the bare statistics do not do justice to the drama which unfolded in the blazing sunshine which warmed the record crowds on the Wentwood Hills course, showcasing perfectly how wonderful the venue will look as host to The 2010 Ryder Cup Matches.
Three shots ahead at the start of the final round, Casey was a hot favourite to notch his fourth European Tour title and when he increased that lead to four with only seven holes to play, his already tight odds in the bookmakers, shortened even further.
However nothing is certain in golf and when Casey bogeyed the 12th, Khan, the only other contender for the title in what had quickly become a two horse race, sensed their was a glimmer of hope.
It appeared Casey, desperate for victory to virtually guarantee his place in Bernhard Langer’s European Team for The 35th Ryder Cup Matches in the United States in September, looked to have steadied his ship when he birdied the 13th but when Khan matched him, his lead remained only three.
The drama truly began to unfold, however, over the next three holes. Firstly Khan reduced his deficit to two with a birdie on the short 14tyh before Casey pushed his drive at the 15th into deep rough, could only pitch out onto the fairway before watching his third shot spin back down the green from where he three putted for a double bogey six.
It meant the two players were now level at the head of the leader board on 20 under par before, incredibly, Khan took the lead at the 16th thanks to a majestic wedge approach to the 340 yard hole which finished a mere 12 inches from the pin.
With pars recorded at the 17th, the duo approached the par five 18th. On the green in three, Casey bravely holed from eight feet for a birdie four, forcing Khan to hole from seven feet to match him and take the title. He failed, the ball slipping past the cup to signal a par five and extra holes.
The first trip to the 18th saw a half in five as both players recovered from pulled drives to make par, but it was on the return trip to the hole some moments later that matters ended.
In the centre of the fairway after a perfect drive, Casey pushed his three wood approach shot into a wicked lie in the rough from where he did well to knock the ball forward 15 feet. His second pitch finished five feet past the hole but when he missed that, Khan, four feet away in three, knew he was the winner.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” said Khan, who had to go to the Qualifying School in both 2001 and 2002 to gain his playing privileges for The European Tour, but who will have no worries on that score this year, having moved to 11th place on the Volvo Order of Merit with €486,767 (£324,431).
“I was so intent in just trying to play my own game today and just trying to not think about what Paul was doing. Obviously it became a bit more of a match play situation on the back nine but even up the last play-off hole I said to myself, no-one can stop me from making my best swing at this. I knew that Paul had missed the green to the right so it was important just to stand up and make my best swing and I was pleased to do that.
“I have heard people say it is a difficult thing to hole a putt to win and I found that out today. That was probably the most nervous I have ever felt over a putt on the 72nd hole but anyone can miss a putt, I got over it, went on to win and I am proud of that.”
Understandably Casey was bitterly disappointed at not having captured his fourth European Tour title but was magnanimous enough to pay tribute to the new champion.
“I just never got it going today, but Simon played a very good round of golf and what with the 61 and everything he achieved this week, he has played very, very well,” he said.
“The bogey at the first hole got me off on the wrong foot but we felt like we were in between clubs all day. It was one of those rounds which was a grind, in between clubs all day and obviously putting has been bad the last year basically.
“Hitting putts like the three putts on the 15th, the first one wasn’t too bad and the second one I thought was left edge, and I thought I hit it left edge, but obviously it was just a poor read. I don’t know if I’m reading them incorrectly or what I’m doing but it is just very disappointing.
“I can never be accused of giving up but it should have never gotten to that position at the end. That is what is most frustrating.”
Throughout the entire day the contest had been between the two main protagonists but it was also a week to remember for Jean-Francois Remesy, for the Frenchman celebrated his 40th birthday on Saturday before carding a superb final round 65 to claim third place on 17 under par 271.
“It has been a fantastic week,” he said. “I was a little disappointed to have hit 40 but I feel much better now! I played tremendously well on the weekend and today was probably the best I have putted. It was absolutely fantastic and that makes such a huge difference.”