Inspired by a tip from his compatriot Christy O’Connor Jnr, Irishman Des Smyth captured his fourth European Senior Tour title in thrilling fashion with a sublime round of 65 at the Van Lanschot Senior Open.
After finishing two strokes ahead of Australian Peter Fowler and American Tim Thelen thanks chiefly to a brace of eagles in a regal display at Royal Haagsche Golf and Country Club, Smyth paid a warm tribute to O’Connor, who noticed that his friend’s alignment was out of kilter.
That brief lesson on the range in Cologne last week helped transformed Smyth’s game, and the 58 year old – who still holds the record as the oldest winner on The European Tour – vowed to reward O’Connor with several pints of Guinness.
Smyth started the day four strokes behind joint overnight leaders Fowler and Thelen, and fell even further adrift after a three-putt bogey on the second green.
But after a confidence-restoring birdie on the fourth hole there was suddenly no stopping the man from Drogheda, as he followed up with an eagle at the next before making another gain at the ninth. The second eagle of the day duly followed on the tenth hole, and when he rattled off successive birdies from the 13th Smyth found himself in the lead for the first time all week.
A bogey on the 17th hole, where he missed a par putt from four feet, might have proved costly were it not for a birdie on the final hole, where he splashed out from the bunker to ten feet and duly rolled in the putt to set the clubhouse target on six under par.
Playing in the group behind, Fowler knew he needed to eagle the last to force a play-off, but a wayward drive put paid to his chances and he had to settle instead for a par five and a joint runner-up finish alongside Thelen on four under par.
Smyth, who has won titles across five decades in an illustrious career on The European and Senior Tours, moved up to 13th place on the Order of Merit after collecting €37,500 – which will help keep O’Connor Jnr in Guinness for some time.
He said: “It was a crazy 65, because I opened up with two three-putts. So at that point I didn’t fancy my chances too much. But then I sunk a ten foot putt for par on the third hole, and after that things started happening for me. I made a great two at the fourth hole and followed up with an even better eagle on the fifth, which really got me moving in the right direction.
“The 13th and 14th are difficult holes so I was delighted to birdie both of those, although I still didn’t know I was leading at that point, because I hadn’t been paying any attention to the leaderboards. The first time I took a look was on the 17th green, and I went and made a bogey! But after my birdie at the last I was pretty confident I’d won, because it’s a tough hole to eagle.
“So I’m absolutely delighted, and I have to thank Christy for giving me a lesson last week. My set-up was out of sync, because my right shoulder was out of position. I worked all week getting my hips and my shoulders on the same plane, and it paid off spectacularly today. So I’ll be buying him a few pints of Guinness when next we meet, that’s for sure!”
Thelen was naturally disappointed to have let a lead slip for the second week running, having been pipped to the prize by Ian Woosnam at last week’s Berenberg Bank Masters. But the American was nonetheless pleased to have started his Senior Tour career with a brace of top three finishes.
He said: “I got off to a good start, but then hit a few loose shots which cost me. Coming in I started to pick up a few shots, but unfortunately it was too little, too late. But a third and a tied second isn’t exactly a bad way to get my Senior Tour career off and running!”
Fowler was also keen to accentuate the positives, having continued a fine run of recent form which has seen him record one win and three top three finishes in his last six events.
The Australian, who moved up to third on the Order of Merit, said: “I struggled a bit today, and just made too many mistakes. You’ve got to drive the ball well and I didn’t manage to do that today, but credit to Des because a 65 is a great round of golf. I’ve got a few things to work on, but overall I’m pretty happy with the state of my game.”