Floris De Vries fought back from a nervous ending to his final round to defeat Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen in a play-off after a dramatic conclusion to the Mugello Tuscany Open.
Dutchman De Vries had appeared to be coasting to victory when he opened up a commanding three stroke lead over the field, reaching the 15th hole four under par for his round, but the Dutchman bogeyed both the 16th and 17th holes at UNA Poggio dei Medici Golf Club to fall a stroke behind Olesen, who led in the clubhouse after a superb seven under par 64.
Remarkably though, De Vries gathered his thoughts before hitting the “best shot” of his short career – a superb three wood from 239 yards to six feet - on the last hole to set up an eagle chance. However he pushed his putt agonisingly past the hole and had to settle for par and a place in the play-off after the pair tied on ten under par 275.
De Vries, who signed for a 68, then put the pressure on at the first extra hole, landing his approach six feet from the pin but missed the birdie chance after Olesen had shaved the hole from 20 feet. On the second attempt Olesen missed from eight feet leaving De Vries to hole out from four feet for a wire-to-wire victory and his maiden European Challenge Tour title.
The 20 year old was understandably both relieved and delighted after fighting back from those back-to-back bogeys, which he admitted came as a result of some complacency at UNA Poggio dei Medici Golf Club, near Florence.
“I played really well from the eighth hole onwards and was hitting it very close and got to 11under,” said De Vries. “I got to 15 and saw the scoreboard and I was three ahead and I thought the last three holes are not that difficult but then I bogeyed 16 and missed the green on 17 and looked at board and saw Olesen was ten under .
“That was a big mistake – looking at the board at 15 and thinking I was there. I was a bit disappointed with myself, I should have kept my focus and played each shot at a time but I lost that and bogeyed twice. It was a great shot on 18 though.
“We had a bit of a wait on the tee which might have helped. I hit a solid tee shot and then I hit a three wood as high as I could. It was the best shot I’ve hit in my life and it stopped two metres from the hole. I’ll look back on that for a long time to come. Then in the play-off I knew it was my moment and I hit two good shots.
“This victory means a lot to me. I’ve worked very hard for this even though I’m still young. I knew I could win and to finish it off to me in that way was very nice.”
De Vries’ victory sees him follow in the recent footsteps of compatriots Wil Besseling and Taco Remkes , who won on the Challenge Tour on 2008.
Both players – along with Inder Van Weerelt – went on to graduate on to The European Tour that year after finishing in the Challenge Tour Top 20 and De Vries now hopes to follow suit having moved from 30th to third in the Rankings.
“We all played in the Dutch National Team together than won the Eisenhower Trophy in Rome a couple of years ago so there must be something about Italy. I really like it here.
“They have given me some advice and it would be great to get on to The European Tour like they did. This is a good step towards that.”
Olesen, who is also 20 years old, came into the tournament in fine form after finishing tied 13th in the Iberdrola Open Cala Millor Mallorca on The European Tour last week
He had started the day four shots behind joint overnight leaders De Vries and Nicolas Meitinger but quickly found his rhythm on the greens at UNA Poggio dei Medici Golf Club
He said: “I really got it going today and I holed some great putts. I played well for the first few days but just couldn’t hole much but I did that today. I also hit almost every fairway which really helps on this course.
“My performance on The European Tour last week really gave me confidence and I took with me here this week.”
Scotland’s former Ryder Cup player Andrew Coltart and Englishman Lloyd Kennedy finished in a tie for third, three shots off the pace on seven under par after rounds of 68 and 67 respectively.
Alessandro Tadini finished as the leading Italian in a share of fifth place with Swede Joel Sjöholm, Spaniard Alvaro Velsaco and England’s Simon Wakefield. Meitinger posted a closing round 76 to finish in a share of 19th place on two under par alongside Rankings leader Robert Dinwiddie.